Decoding Docket Days

A newspaper reporter in my hometown always sat in Court on Criminal Docket Days, and he would report the names of people charged with offences in the weekly local newspaper. Over time, I imagine he figured out exactly what was going on during docket days, though to the layperson, it can be quite boring and confusing. No trials here…just the Judge, criminal lawyers, Court clerks, and Accused people conducting preliminary criminal proceeding matters.

When an individual is charged with a criminal offence, he or she is given a date for a first appearance in Court. Contrary to some misperceptions, the person’s trial will not be held on this day, and no witnesses or RCMP officers will appear regarding the matter. On a first Court date, an Accused who is not in custody will normally be given Disclosure by the Crown Prosecutor. At this point, the Accused’s options are to: 1) request an adjournment to seek legal advice and review the Disclosure; 2) enter a not guilty plea and set the matter for trial; or 3) enter a guilty plea and be sentenced. These options do not change at subsequent docket appearances. An Accused who is being held in custody will also deal with judicial interim release (bail) on a docket day.

Provincial Courts in each community hold docket days on the same day of the week – for example, the Alberta Lloydminster Provincial Court has criminal docket days on the first, second, and third Tuesday of each month. Other Court sitting days are designated as trial days, when trials are scheduled and heard.

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