Information for the Accused about the Downtown Community Court
What types of cases does the Downtown Community Court handle?
A person charged with all but the most serious offences that happened within the area outlined on the map will come to the Downtown Community Court. The community court receives:
- Provincial offences that are heard by Provincial Court judges (such as driving while prohibited, aggressive panhandling)
- All Criminal Code offences which are
- In the absolute jurisdiction of the Provincial Court (for example, shoplifting)
- Summary conviction offences (such as causing a disturbance)
- Hybrid offences where the Crown proceeds summarily (examples are assault causing bodily harm, impaired driving)
- Offences under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act:
- Simple possession of drugs
- Offences relating to non-compliance with community court orders (for example, failing to appear in court or violating the terms of bail or probation).
What will happen when you arrive at Community Court as an accused?
If you have been charged with an offence and have been told to appear at the Downtown Community Court, you may already have received a phone call from the community court defence lawyer. If you have not received a call, you are encouraged to visit the community court before your appearance to discuss your case, free of charge, with the community court defence lawyer.
When you come to court, the defence lawyer will be able to:
- Discuss your charge and the evidence against you
- Review your options
- Tell you about the process at the Downtown Community Court
Interpreters are available if you need one; just ask when you arrive at the courthouse.
If you were in custody, someone has probably already talked to you about community court and you may have even already had an interview with the community court defence lawyer. After your meeting with the lawyer, you will be asked if you are willing to speak to a member of the community court staff. During this interview you will be asked about your personal situation and, in particular, about any problems you may be experiencing. Any admissions you make concerning the charge will not be used against you.
You and the staff member will work together to come up with a plan to try and deal with any problems you are having. Downtown Community Court partners may be able to help you, or you may be offered assistance to access other programs or agencies in the community. This is your chance to have some input in what is happening to you and ask for help if you need it.
If you want to hire your own lawyer or apply for legal aid you may do so. If you wish to plead not guilty, and to have a trial on your charge, your matter will be sent to Vancouver Provincial Court at 222 Main Street for that trial.
If you agree that you are responsible for the criminal charge, you will be able to deal with your matter in the Downtown Community Court.
In some cases, the matter may be dealt with by what’s called an “alternative measure.” In that case, you do not have to enter a guilty plea, but you must still agree that you are responsible for the offence. You may be required to perform a certain number of hours of community service. This will give you a chance to give something back to the community for any harm done by your criminal actions. Examples of community service include: working in community kitchens and dining rooms, and cleaning up and maintaining roadways and community gardens, sidewalks and alleys.
Your plan may also include a requirement that you attend a program. Some examples of programs are sessions with the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation to assess your eligibility for income assistance or employment programs, programs run by Vancouver Coastal Health to address physical or mental health needs including difficulties with drugs or alcohol, or culturally-appropriate programs for Aboriginal people involved in the community court process. This will give you a chance to get some help for yourself.
If you agree to such a plan, you will begin any community service or go to any program very soon after agreeing to the plan, if possible, the same day. Once you have completed the plan, the charge will be concluded.
If an alternative measure is not considered appropriate for you and you wish to plead guilty, the judge will be able to sentence you to probation, a fine, jail, or a combination of these. The information obtained in your interview with community court staff may be taken into account by the court if you wish. Probation orders from the community court may also include requirements that you attend a program or perform community service.
You can speak to the judge on your own, or you can have the community court defence lawyer or your own lawyer, speak for you.