I Want My Criminal Case to Be Dealt with in First Nations Court

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

If you:

  • Identify yourself as an Aboriginal person (either status or non-status Indian, First Nation, Métis or Inuit), and
  • have been charged with a criminal offence that you wish to take responsibility for by pleading guilty to the charge,

you may be able to choose to be sentenced in one of BC’s First Nations Courts.

What is a First Nations Court[edit]

A First Nations Court (sometimes called an Aboriginal Justice Court) is a court where Aboriginal Elders and knowledge-keepers sit with a Provincial Court Judge in court to help develop a fitting sentence and healing plan for an Aboriginal offender who has pled guilty to a criminal charge.

The goal of First Nations Courts is to provide an Aboriginal perspective based on a restorative and holistic approach to sentencing as outlined in the Gladue case of the Supreme Court of Canada.

First Nations Courts are often held in a circle with the Judge, Elders, offender, prosecutor, defence lawyer, support people and (sometimes) the victim all participating.

So far, there are four First Nations Court in BC: New Westminster, Kamloops, Duncan and North Vancouver. Others may be opened over the next few years.

Things to consider before you choose First Nations Court:

  • Do not assume that you will get a lighter sentence in First Nations Court. The Elders and the Judge want to help you in a healing journey but will hold you accountable for what you did.
  • The Elders will speak directly to you and expect you to answer their questions.

First steps[edit]

  1. Before you decide to plead guilty, make sure to review the charges against you (the information) and the report prepared by the police (circumstances or disclosure). You can usually get these at your first court appearance. If possible, review these documents with a lawyer before entering your plea. You can ask the court for an adjournment (delay) for a number of days to give you time to do so.
  2. If you decide to plead guilty and want to have your sentencing in First Nations Court, tell that to the judge at your next court appearance. A lawyer or Native Courtworker can help you make the request and may even help you make arrangements to attend First Nations Court.

If the offence occurred in part of the Province where there is no First Nations Court, you may be able to have your sentencing waived to one of the First Nations Court locations. You will have to complete a Request for Waiver form. You can get one of these forms from the court or a court registry. For more information on waiving your case from one location to another, see the article in this wikibook, I've been charged with a criminal (or youth) offence out-of-town and want to move the case closer to home. Please note that Crown Counsel (the prosecutor) can decide to approve or refuse the waiver request.

What happens next[edit]

A date will be set for your sentencing to be dealt with in First Nations Court.

If you have a lawyer, you should meet with him or her before that date to prepare. If you don’t have a lawyer, there will be a duty counsel lawyer at the First Nations Court to help you with the sentencing.

You can invite support people to come to court with you. They will probably be given the opportunity to give input to the Judge and Elders themselves.

Where to get help[edit]

See the Resource List in this Guide for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:

  • First Nations Court Duty Counsel gives free legal advice about having your matter transferred to First Nations Court and the charges against you.
  • Native Courtworkers provides culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Cliff Thorstenson, March 2017.


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.

A legal document setting out either a claim or a defence to a claim prepared at or following the start of a court proceeding. In the Provincial Court, the pleadings are the Application to Obtain an Order and Reply. In the Supreme Court, the pleadings include the Notice of Family Claim, Response to Family Claim, Counterclaim, Petition and Response to Petition. See "action," "claim" and "Counterclaim."

A court established and staffed by the provincial government, which includes Small Claims Court, Youth Court and Family Court. The Provincial Court is the lowest level of court in British Columbia and is restricted in the sorts of matters it can deal with. It is, however, the most accessible of the two trial courts and no fees are charged to begin or defend a court proceeding. Small Claims Court, for example, cannot deal with claims larger than $25,000, and Family Court cannot deal with the division of family property or matters under the Divorce Act. See "judge" and "jurisdiction."

The highest level of court in Canada. This court hears appeals from the decisions of the Federal Court of Appeal and the provincial courts of appeal, including the Court of Appeal for British Columbia. There is no court to appeal to beyond this court. See "Court of Appeal" and "Supreme Court."

A reply, a rebuttal, an answer to a court proceeding or an application; a statement as to why a particular claim or application should not succeed.

A person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor."

In law, response to an allegation of fact or to a claim. Usually refers to documents which reply to the allegations or claims made by the other party, such as a "Response to Family Claim" or a "Reply."

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A step in a court proceeding in which each party advises the other of the documents in their possession which relate to the issues in the court proceeding and produces copies of any requested documents before trial. This process is regulated by the rules of court, which put each party under an ongoing obligation to continue to advise the other of new documents coming into their possession or control. The purpose of this step is to encourage the settlement of court proceedings and to prevent a party from springing new evidence on the other party at trial.

The suspension of a hearing or trial, usually when the hearing or trial cannot proceed on the date scheduled or because it cannot complete within the time scheduled, normally until a specific date.

A person appointed by the federal or provincial government to manage and decide court proceedings in an impartial manner, independent of influence by the parties, the government or agents of the government. The decisions of a judge are binding upon the parties to the proceeding, subject to appeal.

A central office, located in each judicial district, at which the court files for each court proceeding in that district are maintained, and at which legal documents can be filed, searched, and reviewed.

In law, the federal and provincial governments and their departments and agencies. Lawyers employed by the federal and provincial governments to prosecute criminal offences.

A lawyer paid by legal aid or the government who provides limited legal services to people on the day that they are in court.

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