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Representing Yourself in Criminal Court

 

Q - Do I need a lawyer if I am charged with a criminal offence?

A - It is wise to get legal advice and to have a lawyer represent you in court. Lawyers know the law and legal procedures. They are used to presenting cases and speaking in court. They know what types of questions to ask and how to prepare evidence. However, if you are unable or do not wish to hire a lawyer, you can represent yourself in court. But you should first get some legal advice.  Look at the 'I need legal help' page for information on finding a lawyer.

Q - Should I get legal advice before I go to court?

A - Yes. Being accused of a crime is a serious matter. It is worth talking with a lawyer to get advice on your situation, even if you decide to plead guilty or you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you in court. The outcome of the trial can affect your future if you are convicted. For example, you may get a criminal record and, depending on the offence, you might be sent to prison. A criminal conviction can affect your ability to get a job and to travel outside Canada.  Look at the 'I need legal help' page for information on finding a lawyer.

Q - Do I have a right to a lawyer?

A - While you have a right to get advice from a lawyer, you do not have a right to a government- funded lawyer if you cannot afford to pay for one. Depending on your financial situation and the seriousness of the offence, you may qualify for Legal Aid. Legal Aid offices are listed in the phone book under 'Nova Scotia Legal Aid' or 'Legal Aid', or visit www.nslegalaid.ca. As well, Nova Scotia Legal Aid has duty counsel in some provincial courts. They can give you free preliminary advice and assistance if you are in court without a lawyer. To contact duty counsel call 420.7800 in Halifax and Dartmouth, or 539.7026 in Sydney.

Look at the 'I need legal help' page for information on finding a lawyer in private practice (a lawyer you would pay).

If you are arrested by the police, they must tell you that you have a right to speak with a lawyer.  Always use your right to speak with a lawyer.  Legal Aid Duty Counsel is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for people who have been arrested or detained by the police. It is free to talk with Legal Aid Duty Counsel. However, if you have a particular private lawyer that you would like to contact, you are entitled to request a lawyer by name.

The police must also tell you that you have a right to remain silent and that anything you do say may be used as evidence against you. You should talk with a lawyer before you say anything to the police.

Q - Where can I get legal advice?

A - If you are not in police custody, you can get legal advice from a criminal law lawyer in private practice or from Nova Scotia Legal Aid.

Depending on your financial situation and the seriousness of the offence, you may qualify for Legal Aid. Legal Aid offices are listed in the phone book under 'Nova Scotia Legal Aid' or 'Legal Aid', or visit www.nslegalaid.ca. As well, Nova Scotia Legal Aid has duty counsel in some provincial courts. They can give you free preliminary advice and assistance if you are in court without a lawyer. To contact duty counsel call 420.7800 in Halifax and Dartmouth, or 539.7026 in Sydney.

If you do not know how to contact a lawyer in private practice you can call the Legal Information Society's Lawyer Referral Service at 1.800.665.9779 toll free in Nova Scotia or, in Halifax Regional Municipality, at 455.3135. Through the Lawyer Referral Service you can get the name of a lawyer who will provide you with an initial consultation of up to 30 minutes for a fee of $20 plus tax.

Q - How will I know what offence I am charged with?

A - There are offences under federal laws such as the Criminal Code of Canada. These are called criminal offences. There are offences under provincial laws such as the Motor Vehicle Act. These are not criminal offences, but can still have serious consequences.

 

No matter what type of offence you are charged with, you will receive a written notice describing the offence, the date of the offence and the law you have allegedly broken. For example, if you are charged with shoplifting, the notice may say “theft under $5,000 contrary to section 334(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada.”

 

The notice may be in the form of a:

The notice will also give the date and time that you have to go to court to answer the charge. If you are not sure what you have been charged with, you should talk with a lawyer.

Q - Are all offences treated the same?

A - No. There are two procedures for dealing with a criminal offence depending on how serious it is.

a) Indictable offences (pronounced in-dite-able) are the most serious. Murder; aggravated sexual assault; robbery; break and enter; and theft over $5,000 are examples.

b) Summary offences are less serious. Unless otherwise noted, they carry a maximum penalty of a fine of $2,000 or six months in prison or both. Impersonating a police officer, or taking a car or boat and driving it without the owner's consent (sometimes called 'joyriding') are two examples.

Sometimes, the Crown Attorney — the lawyer who presents the case against you — can decide whether the offence will be treated as summary or indictable. These are called hybrid offences. Examples are; theft under $5,000 and impaired driving. The Crown Attorney decides which procedure to use and tells the judge on the first date that you are in court.

The police can assume that a hybrid offence will be treated as indictable. This allows them to demand that the accused provide photographs and fingerprints before a trial.

All offences under provincial laws such as the Motor Vehicle Act and the Liquor Control Act are dealt with by summary procedure.

Q - When do I have to go to court?

A - The written notice that tells you what you have been charged with will also give you the date you first have to go to court.

You must go to court on the date and at the time indicated. If you do not turn up, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. A warrant is an order of the court that allows the police to arrest you and hold you in custody until they can bring you before a judge.

If you have a good reason for not being in court, you should call the court office and let them know. You may also ask a friend or relative to go to court and explain why you are not there. A good reason might be if you are ill. You will need to provide the court with written notice from your doctor that you are too ill to attend court. Failing to show up because you are on holiday or do not want to take time off work are not usually good reasons.

You may want to visit the court before your court date so you can watch what happens. You will see where everyone sits, and what they do and how the court operates. This may help you to be more relaxed and less nervous when your court date comes up.

On the day you have to go to court, you should arrive 10 or 15 minutes early. If there is more than one courtroom, you can ask at the information desk which court you should be in. You can go into the courtroom and sit in the seats for the public, which are towards the back of the courtroom.

Q - How many times do I have to go to court?

A - In many cases, if you plead “guilty”, there is only one court appearance. In most cases where you plead “not guilty” there are at least two court appearances.

The number of court dates may increase:

  • If you or the Crown Attorney ask for adjournments (delays). For example, you might ask for an adjournment to give you time to get legal advice, or because a witness is ill.
  • If you plead “not guilty”, the judge will set a date for trial.
  • If you are found guilty at your trial, the judge may want time to consider what sentence to give you and set a date for sentencing.

Q - Do I have a right to a trial in my own language?

A - You have a right to a trial in English or French. If you do not have a lawyer, the judge must tell you of this right. If you do not understand English or French, the judge may allow you to have the assistance of an interpreter. If you are hearing impaired, you may request the aid of a sign language interpreter. Tell the judge that you need help or have a friend explain for you.

Q - Do I have a right to a trial within a certain time? 

A - The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that persons accused of a crime have a right to be tried within a reasonable time. It does not say what “within a reasonable time” means. Courts have provided some guidance. There are four factors that a judge will consider when deciding if the trial is within a reasonable time

  • the length of the delay. For example, a complicated fraud or drugs case may take longer to come to trial than an assault case.
  • the reason for the delay. For example, the delay may be caused by the illness of an important witness
  • whether the accused has waived his or her right. For example, the accused agreed to a delayed date for the trial.
  • prejudice to the accused caused by the delay. For example, did the delay affect the accused's ability to put forward a full defence.

If you think that there has been an unreasonable delay, you should get legal advice on your situation.

Q - What should I wear to court?

A - There is no special way of dressing, but you do want to make a good impression on the judge so be neat and tidy.

Q - How should I behave in court?

A - You should show respect for the court. Show the judge that you are taking the matter seriously. Do not smoke, eat, chew gum, or drink in court. Males are expected to remove their hat or cap. While you may want to bring a friend or relative with you for support, it is not a good idea to bring a crowd of people who joke around, are noisy or otherwise disrupt the court.

You should stand up when you speak to the judge or when the judge speaks to you. Speak clearly and loud enough for the judge to hear you. In Provincial Court, when you speak to the judge, use the title “Your Honour.” In Supreme Court you address the judge as “My Lord” or “My Lady”.

Q - What happens at the first court appearance?

This is often called the arraignment date. The first appearance usually lasts no more than five to 10 minutes. There will be a number of cases being dealt with by the court on the same day. Listen carefully so that you can hear when the court clerk calls your case.

Cases where the accused has a lawyer are usually called first. The remaining matters are then called in alphabetical order.

When the court clerk reads out your name, you should walk to the front of the court where the judge can see you. The court clerk will read the information, which contains the charge against you.

The judge will ask you if you understand the charge. Tell the judge if you do not understand so it can be explained to you. If you do understand, say so.

Once you have told the judge that you understand the charge, you will plead “guilty” or “not guilty” and pick how you want to be tried. The judge will say, “Are you prepared to plead?” Your choices are:

  • You can plead 'not guilty'. The judge will then set a trial date.
  • You can ask for an adjournment if you need time to speak with a lawyer.
  • You can plead 'guilty' (this means that you admit you committed the offence you are charged with).

If you are not sure how to plead, the judge may adjourn the matter and give you time to speak with a lawyer or enter a not-guilty plea and set a date for trial.

It is your decision how you plead. Even if you decide not to hire a lawyer to represent you in court, you should get some legal advice on your situation before you decide how to plead.

If you plead guilty the judge may sentence you immediately or set a date for sentencing. You or the Crown Attorney may ask the judge to order a background report on you. This is called a pre-sentence report and is prepared by a probation officer. (See the page on Sentencing.)

Q - What happens after the first court date?

A - If your case is adjourned at the first court date to allow you time to get legal advice, the judge will set a date for another hearing. It will follow much the same procedure as that for a first appearance. Be sure that you arrange to see a lawyer as soon as possible. Do not leave it until the day before your next court date.

If you plead "guilty” at the first court date and the judge set a date for sentencing, the next court date will deal only with sentencing.

If you plead "not guilty” at the first court date or elect to be tried in Supreme Court, the next court hearing will likely be the trial or a preliminary hearing, and that may be several months after the first court appearance. Again, you should be sure to get some legal advice before your trial or preliminary hearing.

Whatever the reason for the second court date, the judge will choose a date that is acceptable to you and the Crown Attorney and that fits in with the court schedule. Be sure you know if there are dates you are not available so you can tell the judge. Write down the date and time that you will need to be in court again. If you are unsure, you can phone the court office and ask the court clerk to check it for you.

Q - Can I choose a trial by jury?

A - With some indictable offences, you may choose how to be tried. This means you decide whether to be tried in Provincial Court by a judge alone, in Supreme Court by a judge alone, or in Supreme Court by a judge and jury. You will be given the choice before you enter a plea. You should get legal advice before you make your choice.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides you with a right to trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment. Some examples are arson (setting fire to property), murder, attempted murder, using an airgun or pistol with intent to harm, forging a passport, abducting a person under 14 years old.

This right does not apply to an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal.

Q - Who will be in court?

A - The Judge

The judge presides (which means he or she is in charge of) over the court. The judge decides, based on the evidence presented in court, whether the case has been proved against you beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found guilty, the judge decides what sentence to give you. The judge sits at the front of the courtroom and usually wears a black robe.

The Crown Attorney 

The Crown Attorney is a lawyer who presents the case against you. Also called “the prosecutor,” “the Crown,” or “Crown Counsel,” the Crown Attorney's job is to prepare the case against you and present the evidence in court. The Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offence you are charged with. The Crown Attorney usually sits at a table at the front of the courtroom facing the judge.

The Defence Lawyer

If you do have a lawyer, he or she prepares and presents the case on your behalf. The Defence lawyer usually sits at the same table as the Crown Attorney.

The Court Clerk 

The court clerk sits at a table in front of the judge facing the public. The clerk calls the court to order, receives physical evidence such as papers presented in court (these are called exhibits), calls and swears in witnesses, writes down any orders and court dates made by the judge, and ensures that what is said in court during a trial is recorded on tape.

The Accused or Defendant 

The person who is charged with the offence is called the “accused” or the “defendant.” You have a right to be in court at any time when your case is being dealt with. If you are representing yourself in court, when your case is called, you should walk to the front of the courtroom and identify yourself. During a trial you should sit near the front of the court so that you can hear everything that is going on.

Witnesses 

Usually during the first court appearance, there are no witnesses. They will be needed later during the trial to give evidence of what they know about the case. Both you and the Crown Attorney may call witnesses and cross-examine each other's witnesses if you choose to.

The jury

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives an accused the right to choose trial by jury if he or she is charged with an offence that carries a penalty on conviction of five or more years in prison or a more sever sentence.

Therefore, if you are accused of certain serious offences you may have a right to choose trial in the Supreme Court by judge and jury. The jury's role is to listen to the evidence and decide whether the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the crime he or she is charged with. The jury does not decide on the sentence the accused receives if he or she is found guilty. The judge decides the sentence. There are no juries in Provincial Court.

Court workers 

In larger centres there may be community groups who provide court workers to help individuals through the court process. They cannot give you legal advice. They can help explain what will happen in court, provide support, and help you contact legal and community services. They will speak to anyone who may need help.

Public and Media 

Courts are generally open to the public and the media. Anyone can come in and watch what is going on. There are seats towards the back of the courtroom for the public.

Q - Will the media always be there?

A - Often there will be reporters from local newspapers. Other media usually only cover court cases if they involve serious offences or a well-known person is appearing in court.

Television, cameras and tape recorders are allowed at the courthouse, but they are not allowed in the courtroom unless the judge allows them.

Q - How can I prepare for trial?

A - Make sure you know what offence you have been charge with. If you do not have a copy of the paper that says what you are charged with, you can get a copy from the court clerk.

Do not leave it until a day or two before the trial date to prepare. You should make notes of what happened as soon as possible after the event. It may be several months before the trial, and you may forget important facts if you don't write them down. Think about:

• Who you might call as witnesses
• Whether you will give evidence yourself
• What are the strong and weak points of your case
• How you can best present the evidence
• What you will say when speaking to sentence, if you are convicted

You should get some legal advice on your case from a lawyer. Do not leave this until the last minute.

Remember to bring paper and a pen with you to court so that you can make notes during the trial.

Q - Do I have to give evidence at trial?

A - No. You do not have to give evidence yourself. You have a right to remain silent. You should speak with a lawyer about what is best for your situation and how best to present your case.

Here are some points for and against giving evidence.

For: 

  • It is the only opportunity you have to tell the judge (and jury if there is one) your version of what happened.
  • You may be the only defence witness who was present when the incident occurred.
  • You may have seen something that no one else saw.
  • You may know facts that no one else knows about the offence.
  • You can explain why you said or did something.
  • You can explain why you could not have committed the offence.
  • You can provide the judge with an opportunity to assess whether you are a truthful, honest person.

Against:

  • You must give evidence under oath (that is you promise to tell the truth) and the Crown Attorney may cross-examine you.
  • The Crown Attorney may point out weaknesses in your evidence.
  • If you have a criminal record, the Crown Attorney can ask you about it.
  • The Crown Attorney can ask you about other matters related to the case that you did not talk about in your testimony.

If you decide to give evidence yourself, you will usually do this after you call any witnesses. The Crown Attorney may cross-examine you and ask if you have a criminal record. If you do not give evidence, the Crown Attorney cannot mention your criminal record unless you are found guilty of the offence. Then it can be mentioned during the sentencing process.

Q - Do I have a right to have copies of witness statements made to the police?

A - Yes. The Crown Attorney must provide you with full disclosure of the case against you. This means that you must be given copies of all evidence relevant to the case including the Crown sheet, police reports, witness statements made to the police both written and verbal, and any other documents such as a Breathalyser certificate.

You can find out from the court clerk the location of the Crown Attorney's office that will deal with your case. You can contact the Crown Attorney's office, tell them you who you are, and ask for disclosure and arrange to pick up the disclosure information. In some cases, it may be mailed to you. You will need to show identification. You should also say that you are going to court without a lawyer.

Q - How do I prepare my defence witnesses?

A - Talk to your witnesses, one at a time, about what happened and what you will ask them in court. They must be able to say in court and in their own words what happened, and what they saw, heard, or did. This is their testimony and must not be rehearsed. You must not tell them what to say or write out what you want them to say.

They will have to promise to tell the truth before they give evidence in court.

The judge will not allow witnesses to give hearsay evidence. This means a witness is not allowed to say what another person told the witness he or she saw, heard or did. Witnesses should not say what they believed happened. They must have seen or heard what happened or what was said, themselves.

Make sure your witnesses know that they may be cross-examined (asked questioned) by the Crown Attorney. Usually all witnesses are excluded from the courtroom until they give evidence.

Q - What can I do if a witness does not want to come to court? 

A - Sometimes people do not want to go to court to give evidence as a witness. If you have any doubt that a witness will show up at court, you should go to court one or two months before the trial date and ask for the witness to be subpoenaed (pronounced sub-peen-ed). A subpoena orders a witness to come to court on the date and at the time of trial. Many employers require that employees have a subpoena before they will let them have time off work to go to court.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that evidence given by a witness at the trial cannot be used against them in any other proceedings, except where the witness is being prosecuted for perjury or for the giving of contradictory evidence.

Q - If I don't have a lawyer, will the judge help me present my case?

A - The judge may explain the trial procedure and the rules of evidence. However, the judge must remain impartial and cannot take your side or act for you. You must not try to contact the judge or ask him or her to talk about your case outside the courtroom.

Q - What happens at the trial?

A - The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives you the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.

This means you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial is an independent and impartial tribunal. The trial is the time when the Crown Attorney must present evidence to prove that you committed the offence you are charged with. If the Crown fails to do this, the judge must find you not guilty.

The case is called by a court official

You should go to the front of the court. You should sit at the front of the courtroom so that you can hear what is being said and see the witnesses.

The trial begins

The judge will ask you and the Crown Attorney if you are ready for the trial. If you are not ready, the judge will decide whether to continue or adjourn and set another date for the trial. There must be a good reason to ask for an adjournment. When you have told the judge that you are ready, you can sit down. The court clerk will show you where.

The judge is asked to make a witness exclusion order

You or the Crown Attorney may ask the judge to make an exclusion order. This means that the judge excludes anyone who is to give evidence at the trial from the courtroom. You should tell your witnesses ahead of time that they will be asked to leave the courtroom when they are not actually testifying, and make sure that they leave. However, although you may be a witness and give evidence at the trial, you have a right to remain in court for the whole trial.

The Crown Attorney presents the case against you

To prove the case against you, the Crown Attorney must present evidence that you:

•Are the person charged with the offence
• Committed the offence, and
• Intended to commit the offence.

The Crown Attorney will call witnesses

For example, if you were charged with shoplifting, the Crown would likely have as witnesses, the store manager or security officer and the police officer who investigated the matter.

Each witness goes into the witness box, swears or affirms to tell the truth, and answers questions from the Crown Attorney. As the witness answers, you should write down the main points and anything that you may want to question later. Note any weak points, for example, where witnesses contradict themselves or each other. When the Crown has finished with a witness, you will have a chance to ask your questions. This is called cross-examination.

The Crown Attorney may also use written evidence such as a Breathalyzer test certificate or drug analysis certificate. Before your trial you should get legal advice on how to handle such evidence.

You present your case, called your defence

Until now, the judge/jury has only heard the Crown's side. It is now your turn to present your side by calling witnesses. If you call witnesses, you must not ask them leading questions. For example, you can ask “Were you with anyone on the evening of August 19?” You cannot say, “You were with me on the evening of August 19 weren't you?”

When you have finished asking a witness questions, the Crown Attorney may cross-examine the witness. If you give evidence the Crown Attorney may cross-examine you.

You should get legal advice on what written evidence might be allowed in your case. You will need an original for the court and a copy for yourself and for the Crown Attorney.

The Crown and the defence sum up their case 

After all the evidence has been presented in court, both you and the Crown Attorney have an opportunity to sum up your case (these are called submissions). Use this time to sum up the points in your favour.

If you presented evidence in your defence, you will make your submission first. However, if you are not represented by a lawyer, the judge might ask the Crown to sum up first. If you did not present a defence, the Crown Attorney usually sums up first.

The judge makes a decision (called the verdict)

Based on the evidence presented in court, the judge must decide whether the evidence against you is sufficient to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judge takes into account all the evidence presented in court by you and the Crown Attorney. Sometimes the judge will adjourn the court briefly to allow time to reach a decision.

If there is a jury trial, the jury will reach a verdict together after considering all the evidence presented in court.

If the judge (or jury) finds you not guilty you are free to go. You have been acquitted

If the judge (or jury) finds you guilty, the next step is for the judge to sentence you.

Q - Can I ask the Crown's witnesses questions in court?

A - Yes. The disclosure will tell you the basic information that the Crown Attorney will use in court. To prepare your cross-examination questions think about the offence you are charged with:

• Who was there?
• What could each person see or hear?

Make a list of possible witnesses and write down what each person saw or did. Do not forget to include police officers. Also try to determine if there are possible witnesses who were not interviewed by police.

Think about what each person could say about the offence and make notes. Now think about what questions you could ask to point out any weaknesses.

You do not have to cross-examine every witness. You should only cross-examine a witness if you feel that it will help your case; if the witness made conflicting answers; or if there are weak spots in the evidence. For example, if the witness cannot clearly recall an event, or if you believe the witness knows other facts important to your case, you may wish to cross-examine.

When you cross-examine you should ask questions that show the witness is unsure of the facts or that the evidence is weak. For example, if at the time of the offence it was dark and raining and the witness, who wears glasses, was standing 200 yards away, you might want to ask questions about the weather, the lighting and the witness's ability to see clearly.

Do not lose your temper or say that the witness is lying. Do not argue with the witness. Ask only questions that you feel will help your case. Do not ask questions that allow witnesses to repeat something they are sure of. Ask questions you already know the answers to. For example, if the witness claims to have seen something clearly at 10 pm on August 19, all you want to point out is that it was dark at the time, and there was no street light nearby.

When you are cross-examining you can use questions that suggest the answer that you want. For example you can say, “It was raining hard at 10 pm on August 19, wasn't it?” These are called leading questions.

Even if you do not cross-examine the witness, you can draw attention to contradictions and weaknesses in the evidence when you sum up at the end of the trial.

Q - What is a directed verdict?

A - When the Crown Attorney has presented the case against you, if you feel that all the things that had to be proved were not, you can make a motion for a directed verdict. This means that you are asking the judge to dismiss the case without hearing the defence evidence. You do this by standing up and saying to the judge: Reserving my right to call defence evidence, I wish to make a motion for a directed verdict. You should then tell the judge what you think has been missed from the Crown's case. For example, you might note that none of the Crown's witnesses identified you in court as the person who was at the scene of the crime.

If the judge agrees with you, you will be acquitted (found not guilty) and the case dismissed. If the judge disagrees with you, your motion will be refused and your defence will begin.

Q - How do I sum up my case?

A - You will have an opportunity to sum up the important points of your case. It is a final opportunity for you to remind the judge (or jury) of the weaknesses in the Crown Attorney's case and the strengths of your case. Write down the main points that you want to cover so that you do not forget anything

When making your submission you should remember to:

• Keep your summary short.
• Tell the judge why your witnesses are believable.
• Draw attention to weaknesses in the prosecution's case, and show that the Crown has not proved the case against you.

You should not try to present any new evidence during your submission.

The Crown makes a submission to try to show the judge that the evidence proves that you are guilty.

Q - What happens if I'm found guilty?

A - If you are found guilty of a crime, the judge will decide on the penalty. This is called sentencing. Even if you had trial by jury, it is the judge that decides on the sentence. Before deciding on the sentence the judge will allow you and the Crown Attorney an opportunity to speak. This is called speaking to sentence. It is an opportunity for you to tell the judge about yourself and any circumstances surrounding the offence. For example, if you committed the offence because you were depressed about losing your job. Be honest. The judge will have heard hundreds of stories and will not be impressed by a “snow job”. (For more information on speaking to sentence see the FAQs on Sentencing.)

You or the Crown Attorney may ask the judge to order a pre-sentence report and set a date, usually six to eight weeks ahead, for a sentencing hearing. This allows time for the report to be written. The pre-sentence report is prepared by a probation officer and provides information about you, your family, your education, your work, your community involvement and your criminal record if you have one. The information for the report will come from you, people you suggest as references and the police.

When speaking to sentence, the victim or the Crown Attorney may read a Victim Impact Statement. This explains how the victim has been affected by your crime.

Q - Will I get a criminal record?

A - You will get a criminal record if you are found guilty and are convicted of a criminal offence. If your sentence is an absolute or conditional discharge, there will not be a conviction recorded but there will be a record of the finding of guilt. You will not get a criminal record if you are convicted of an offence under provincial laws. For information on criminal records and pardons see the page on Sentencing on this website. 

Q - Where can I get more information?

  • For more information on the law or to use the Lawyer Referral Service call the LISNS Legal Information Line or Lawyer Referral Service call 455.3135 in the Halifax area or 1.800.665.9779 toll free in the rest of Nova Scotia.
  • Look at the 'I need legal help' page for information on finding a lawyer in private practice (a lawyer you would pay) or contacting Nova Scotia Legal Aid.

These FAQs were developed with the support of a financial contribution from the Department of Justice Canada.

December 2011

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