New Ontario criminal rules take effect July 1

The Ontario Court of Justice released a new set of rules for criminal proceedings this month in a move that its says will help make court proceedings simpler and quicker for self-represented clients.

The Criminal Rules of the Ontario Court of Justice will come into effect July 1 and will govern conduct in all criminal proceedings at the court. They will replace the current Rules of the Ontario Court of Justice in Criminal Proceedings.

“The new criminal rules are brief, written in plain language, and contain extensive commentary regarding their interpretation and application,” states the Ontario Court of Justice. “This reflects the reality that many accused today do not have legal counsel or are unrepresented.”

But some criminal lawyers in Toronto say the rules, while laudable, may require more effort from the court if they hope to have an impact, particularly when it comes to helping self-represented litigants in court.

“While easier to read, self-represented individuals often have trouble understanding the rules even when explained in court in as plain language as one can imagine. The court process is often a scary one for those charged with offences [who] cannot afford a lawyer and are denied legal aid for whatever reason,” says Jeff Hershberg, a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto.

“They are rarely directed to these rules and are not provided a copy in court. Hopefully, with the new rules will come new procedures for making sure self-represented individuals are made aware of them; including providing a copy of the necessary forms.”

Some of the most notable changes to the rules include a 60-day time limit before the scheduled trial date for the hearing of pre-trial matters and a requirement that parties that have decision-making authority attend judicial pre-trial. Additionally, counsel who will conduct the preliminary hearing or a designated counsel with decision-making authority must attend focus hearings. The changes also mean five new criminal rules and three new forms will replace 32 old rules and 15 forms.

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