Pre-Trial Applications

A pre-trial application refers to a small hearing where either the crown or defence asks the court to make a ruling on an issue before the trial begins. These are heard by a judge who will usually write their reasons down or provide an oral explanation for their ruling. Many applications are determinative of what happens with the charges. For example, since the Covid pandemic caused significant backlogs to occur in the criminal justice systems, many cases have experienced unconstitutional delays on their way to trial. As a result, so called “Jordan Application” (Named after R. v. Jordan, 2016) are brought by the defence to show the court that the accused had their charter right to a trial within a reasonable period of time, breached. If such an application is successful, the remedy is an immediate dismissal of the charge, and the case stops then and there. There are numerous applications that may form part of the trial process, each one with its own criteria and procedure. As a general matter, however, the following considerations apply to all pre-trial applications, unless the Criminal Code or other rules dictate otherwise. First, pre-trial applications are usually divided into procedural, evidential, and Charter applications. Procedural applications include disclosure applications, applications to produce third-party records, testimonial aids, applications for removal or appointment of counsel among others. Examples of evidentiary applications include severance and similar-fact-evidence applications, application admit prior sexual activity of a complainant, applications to tender video evidence, expert evidence applications and so on. Charter applications can arise under s. 24(1), such as an application to stay a proceed for unreasonable delay, 24(2) to exclude evidence because of a breach of another charter right or section 52, an application to declare legislation unconstitutional. Second, applications are usually, though not necessarily, heard by the trial judge. The Criminal Code provides for the appointment of a trial judge before the trial commences for this very purpose. When this occurs, the appointed judge is usually seized with the trial, meaning that they will be the trial judge moving forward. A preliminary inquiry judge can hear applications related to that specific hearing. Third, unless the application addresses a purely legal question, evidence will be required to establish the basis for the application. Depending on the type of application, the necessary evidentiary basis for it can be based on oral testimony of witnesses, affidavit evidence, which may be subject to cross examination, transcripts of earlier or related proceedings, specific admissions, business records and any other evidence which may be necessary for the fair adjudication of the said application. Further, in Charter applications, the accused may be able to rely on the Crown’s theory of the case. However, without the consent of both parties, any application evidence is not admissible at trial, unless that admissibility is re-established. Fourth, applications may be heard before the date set for trial or during the trial. The timing of the application depends on a multitude of factors, such as when the Criminal Code specifies when the application is to be brought. For example, an application to quash an indictment must be brought before the accused enters a plea, and therefore, only with leave of the court. Other applications can be brought before, at the start of, or even during a trial. When the Crominal Code is silent as to timing, the nature of an application may require that it be heard either before trial, or at the start of the trial. As a practical matter, an application cannot be brought until the evidence supporting it is discovered. Fifth, applications almost require advance notice to the other side to be brought if possible. This is usually done by filing a Notice of Application. In most cases, the notice periods range from 30 to 60 days, although the judge may set a shorter or longer period. However, in certain cases, such as bail review, a much shorter period is required. The application is expected to provide notice of the application that is sufficiently detailed to allow the opposing party to understand the factual and legal basis of the application and prepare a similarly detailed response. This is done to focus each application only at the matters at hand and to avoid any unnecessary adjournments. All levels of criminal courts in Canada have specific rules about what each notice of application must contain to be heard. However, failure to strictly adhere to these rules is not necessarily fatal. Each court has broad discretion to determine whether to excuse non-compliance in any given application before. As a rule, understandable non-compliance is usually forgiven, such a slightly delayed filing, while more egregious ones result in adjournments or even outright dismissals. This article does not constitute legal advice and was written solely to provide information. If you are seeking legal advice, please call Empel Law Professional Corporation at 416-500-1937.
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