An appeal is most simply a request for a higher court to review the decision of a lower court and overturn the outcome by either ordering a new trial or substituting the verdict that should have been reached.

Usually, a criminal appeal must be filed within 30 days of the last date of the lower court proceedings. There are limited exceptional circumstances in which the Court can allow time to be extended. In other matters, such as an appeal under the Provincial Offences Act, the filing period maybe even shorter.

In criminal appeals the appellant is usually the convicted person seeking to change or overturn the result below. The powers of the Court of Appeal with respect to convictions and sentence essentially allow the court to:

  • Substitute a different verdict or result (substitute an acquittal or stay of proceedings for a conviction imposed below)
  • Order that a new trial be held
  • Alter the sentence imposed
  • Dismiss the appeal without interfering with the result below

The majority of criminal cases in Ontario are prosecutions ‘by summary conviction’ and proceed to disposition of in the lower court (the Ontario Court of Justice). Appeals from those decisions go to the Superior Court of Justice and are heard by a single Judge, usually less costly than more serious matters.

The most serious criminal cases usually start in the Ontario Court of Justice with a Preliminary Inquiry but proceed to trial at the Superior Court of Justice. On appeal, these proceedings ‘by indictment’ are reviewed by the Court of Appeal for Ontario usually before a three member panel of appellate judges although in rare cases a five member panel will sit. Appeals from that court, which are few, go to the Supreme Court of Canada.

A significant part of the cost of any appeal is in having the official Court Reporters produce transcripts of all the evidence given at trial. Those transcripts form part of “the record” upon which the appeal is based, along with those exhibits and paperwork capable of reproduction. Summary conviction appeals are usually less costly than indictable appeals because, among other things, there is only one rather than three or five judges who must be provided with complete copies of all transcripts.

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