How do I find the right lawyer?

For a criminal case, you need a criminal lawyer. This area of law is technical and has its own procedures and rules.

You may have names for criminal lawyers from friends or family, and you might wish to speak to or meet with a few lawyers. When you meet with a lawyer, ask yourself whether the lawyer inspires confidence. Is he or she someone you trust and are happy to work with? Does the lawyer listen and respond to your concerns? Is the lawyer energetic and engaged, willing to work hard for you? You are well advised to ask these questions at the outset, than to launch with one lawyer, only to change your mind later on.

I’m in custody. How quickly can I get out?

There is no single answer to this question. For charges that are not serious, for a person without a criminal record, you have a good prospect of being released the same day or the day following. (Sometimes your lawyer can persuade the police to release you from the station rather than holding you overnight for court.) For more serious cases, or if the person has a criminal record or there are other complications, it may take some days to be ready to bring a bail application in court.

Because you only get one chance to seek release on bail, it is important to be fully organized and put forward the best possible arguments for release. Your lawyer may need to receive and assess the evidence in the case (especially in murder and complicated prosecutions), in order to point to frailties in the case, since the strength of the case may be taken into account by the Court in deciding whether to release a person.

What happens at the first court date?

Not much. (Unless you are in custody.) The Court generally wants all accused persons to attend for a "first appearance", to see if they are retaining a lawyer, and so that the Crown prosecutor can provide to the accused a disclosure package containing the police report and basic evidence. (This disclosure package is also called "particulars".) Normally, court cases have a few early appearances, to allow the person time to find a lawyer, and for the lawyer to read the material, assess the case, and speak with the prosecutor.

Do I have to go to court repeatedly? What if I can’t?

If you hire a lawyer, your lawyer can go to court for you for all but the most important appearances, such as the trial itself. This avoids you missing days of work for every court appearance date.

What are my rights when dealing with the police?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees various legal rights to anybody dealing with the police in Canada. These include the right to silence, the right to contact a lawyer, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained.

It is beyond the scope of this FAQ to analyze each of these rights. In a basic way, we suggest you need not resist the police or be impolite, but you may wish to clarify whether they say you are legally required to do something. If the police tell you that you are legally obligated to do something, you should do it. If you are not, you may choose whether you want to or not. For example, if a police officer comes to your door and asks to come in and speak with you, you are entitled to ask if you are legally required to do either of those things. If the officers say no, you may decline to let them in or speak with them.

It is wise to contact a lawyer immediately in such a situation.