The criminal justice system is confusing enough without the addition of everything being moved over to an online system. In this blog post, we will provide helpful suggestions for self-representatives to consider when navigating the criminal justice system as a self-representative these days.
If you have hired a criminal lawyer, then you do not have to concern yourself with the information below as it is most likely your lawyer will be attending your court appearances on your behalf. However, if you have decided to self-represent yourself, the following information below might be of interest to you.
Prior to COVID-19, criminal court operated in-person in courthouses. Now, Ontario courthouses have moved over online for at least the foreseeable future and use the app “Zoom” to hold criminal proceedings across Ontario. Make sure you know what the “Call In Details” for what court room you are in. You should also make sure you know your meeting room ID and your password in order to join the room.
The Zoom App for computers and phones is quite user-friendly. We highly suggest do not “call” into the court room with your telephone only as you cannot see the criminal proceedings and you can only hear the audio of the room you are in. This can be incredibly difficult to understand what is going on around you. Use the Zoom app so you can see the Crown and the Judge/Justice of the Peace in the room and you can see the other individuals in the room as well, which will make it more clear when it might be your turn. Some court rooms are stopping this call-in feature and forcing everyone to start using the Zoom app.
Make sure you know how to connect to your court room and what time to appear in court. It is also important to note that Zoom information for court rooms constantly change. Make sure you are up to date for what the current call-in details are. If not, please refer to this information from Ontario Courts.
If you are trying to connect to a room and you feel like the Zoom details you entered are still wrong, it is better to call into the courthouse and double check the Zoom call-in details for your court room. Do ensure you call into the main courthouse number and NOT the Crown attorneys office number. If you accidentally do so, they will just re-direct you to the main courthouse for that information and so you would have waited for nothing.
Remember if you do not appear in court a bench warrant can be issued, and you can also be charged with Failure to Appear.
If it is not your turn in court and you are not being spoken to, mute yourself and hide your camera. You might see lawyers and other legal representatives have their video-on even when it is not their turn and they are not being spoken to. That is so the Crown in the room can see that there are counsel in the room so they can hopefully be heard next. Just like in-person court, counsel matters (individuals who have hired lawyers) are always heard before self-representative matters (individuals who are representing themselves).
When it is your turn, the same rules apply as in-person court. Please be respectful to the Crown and the Judge/Justice of the Peace in the room. If you are appearing by video make sure you are properly dressed for court (no non-religious head coverings, no sunglasses, clean and professional attire).
If you have a court-appearance and you are not properly dressed for court, you can “technically” appear by audio-only and choose not to share your video. At least for right now, courts are allowing people to appear by audio-only through the Zoom app.
Prior to COVID, disclosure would be released to you physically in court. Now, everything has moved over virtually. Most disclosure is getting released electronically with the most popular portal being “Disclosure Hub” where you will have to create your own account and learn how to access and download your disclosure. If you are not the most tech-savvy individual it may make sense to get a loved one to help assist in you accessing your disclosure. Your disclosure is the evidence that is pertinent in your criminal case.
We understand not everybody may wish to be represented by a criminal defence lawyer. However, navigating Ontario’s criminal justice system alone is a significant uphill battle that requires thorough knowledge and experience. With uncertain times ahead and new technologies in use, now is the best time to seek support from a legal professional.
If you are looking to make your experience with the criminal justice system easier and safer, you can contact our criminal lawyers in the Greater Toronto Area today. We offer fair pricing, 24/7 availability and more. Call us today and tell us what happened – we are here to help you.