Court Appearances Before the Trial
Several court appearances may occur before a trial starts. These are called pre-trial appearances or interim hearings. Their purposes include:
- Asking for adjournments while the accused finds a lawyer or gets more information about the charges
- Formally requesting more information (called particulars) from Crown counsel about the charges
- Entering a guilty or not guilty plea
- Letting the court know the Crown and defence are ready for trial
The arraignment is the scheduled appearance at which the accused pleads guilty or not guilty.
In Victoria and the Western Communities, if certain criteria are met, the arraignment may not require an in-person appearance by the accused. Rather, the appearance may be made by filing a Consent Arraignment form if Crown and defence counsel:
- Agree the matter is ready to be set for trial, sentencing or other hearing, and that an hearing is not required
- Complete the Consent Arraignment form
- File the form with the Judicial Case Manager
The Consent Arraignment form may not be used for youth matters.
If the accused pleads guilty, they are admitting to and accepting responsibility for the crime. A trial will not be held. The next step is for the judge to decide the appropriate sentence. This might happen the same day as the guilty plea or be postponed to another day. Postponing the sentencing hearing allows Crown and/or defence counsel to gather more information to help the court decide on a fair sentence. Sometimes a pre-sentence report will be prepared for the judge.
Sometimes, Crown and defence counsel will discuss what sentence to recommend to the judge. These are often called plea negotiations. Even if Crown and defence counsel agree on a recommendation, the final sentencing decision is up to the judge.
Not Guilty Plea
When the accused pleads not guilty, a trial date is set. Both Crown and defence counsel will estimate the amount of time they believe is required for the trial.
For certain indictable (more serious) offences, the accused may have the option of having their trial either in the Provincial Court of B.C. or B.C. Supreme Court. If the accused chooses Supreme Court, they may also have the choice of being tried by a judge alone or a judge sitting with a jury.
When the accused chooses to have a trial in B.C. Supreme Court, the next step is a preliminary hearing (sometimes called the preliminary inquiry). The preliminary hearing is for the court to decide if there is enough evidence to convict the accused. Crown counsel will present their evidence to a Provincial Court judge. The accused or their defence counsel will have an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. If the judge decides there is sufficient evidence, they will order that a trial be held. If there is not enough evidence, the charges against the accused will be dismissed. As long as the accused is not in custody on other charges, they may leave the court. If they are in custody, they will be returned to the correctional or remand centre.