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.

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