What Is a Judicial Pre-trial Conference?
Blog by Arun S. Maini
My lawyer tells me that he will discuss my case with a judge at a Judicial Pre-trial Conference. What is a Judicial Pre-trial Conference?
A judicial pre-trial conference, also known as a “judicial pre-trial” or “JPT”, is a meeting between the Crown attorney prosecuting your case, your criminal defence lawyer, and a judge. Other than the Crown pre-trial conference, the JPT is the only other formal opportunity for the parties to discuss the case. To learn more about the Crown pre-trial conference, see our earlier blog here.
When and how does a judicial pre-trial take place?
A JPT normally takes place during the negotiation stage of the case, after charges have been laid by police, and after the discussions between the Crown and the defence, known as a Crown pre-trial conference, or “CPT” for short. Before the COVID pandemic, JPTs usually happened in person, in the judge’s chambers or a boardroom at the courthouse. Now, JPTs tend to take place virtually, by phone or video.
What is the purpose of the judicial pre-trial?
The purpose of the JPT is to move the case forward. Once the Crown and the defence have discussed the issues at a Crown pre-trial, it is often helpful to involve a judge. The JPT judge can help mediate between the parties to resolve issues and negotiate a resolution. If the case is going to trial, the judge will need to approve the time requirements for the trial, because court time is a limited resource. If the client is willing to consider a guilty plea, the JPT judge can provide his or her opinion on what the sentence will be, and this can act as an incentive (or disincentive) to plead guilty and resolve the case.
Can I be present at the judicial pre-trial?
No. If you have a lawyer, the discussion will take place between your lawyer, the Crown and the judge. The reason for this is to permit the judge and the parties to discuss the issues in an efficient way, since they have the legal knowledge and experience to get right to the point and to try to come up with solutions to the issues. Having the client there would require time-consuming explanations of the terminology and issues. It would also tend to limit the free exchange of ideas and information, to avoid misunderstandings or embarrassment to the client. Also, to protect the integrity of the court process and ensure transparency and accountability, any proceeding where the client and judge are both present must be recorded by a court reporter.
Can I have a JPT if I don’t have a lawyer?
Yes. If you do not have a lawyer, and you plan to go to trial or plead guilty, you can request what is called a “self-represented judicial pre-trial”. A self-represented JPT will take place in court (virtually or in-person) on the record. The discussions will be a bit more limited, because they are being recorded, but it does present an opportunity for you to speak directly to a judge about your situation. But if you have a lawyer, your interests will most likely be better promoted and protected than if you are trying to do it yourself.
My lawyer tells me that the JPT judge in my case is really good. Can that judge handle my trial?
No. A judge who presides over a judicial pre-trial conference cannot be the trial judge. The reason for that is that the point of a JPT is for the parties to have an open and frank discussion about the evidence and the issues with the judge. The JPT judge has to be able to express his or her opinion about the case. A trial judge, on the other hand, has to arrive at the trial with a clean slate, without any opinions or “inside knowledge” about the case. So once a judge had conducted a JPT, that judge can deal with a guilty plea or other resolution, but is eliminated from the list of judges who can preside over a trial in that case.
Do I only get one Judicial pre-trial?
Generally yes, although if the parties need to follow up with the JPT judge, they can arrange another session. But it will be in front of the same judge as before. It is very rare to have another judicial pre-trial in front of a different judge, because that will then be two judges who are disqualified from presiding over a trial in that case, if a trial becomes necessary.
Can the JPT judge dismiss the case or find me Not Guilty?
No. The JPT judge can provide his or her opinion about the case, but does not have the power to force the Crown to do anything, or to make an order dismissing the case or acquitting the defendant. The JPT judge does not have the power to find the defendant guilty either.
If the judge at the JPT cannot throw out the case, is it still worthwhile?
Yes. In almost every instance, a judicial pre-trial is worth the time and effort. The JPT judge and Crown attorney in your case work at the same courthouse and have to face each other regularly. So when a judge tells the Crown what they think about a case, or what they think should be done, then the Crown ignores the judge’s opinion at his or her own risk, knowing that they will have to be in court together often. A judge’s opinion will often be the reason for a breakthrough in negotiations even when further progress seemed unlikely.
Remember also that the JPT judge performs a gatekeeper function when it comes to scheduling trials. In most cases, a trial cannot be set without a judge approving the time estimate and issues for trial beforehand at a judicial pre-trial conference.
If your lawyer prepares and presents a good case for you at a judicial pre-trial, you almost always be better off, whether you are pleading guilty, have a few issues that need to be worked out, or intend to set a trial date.
Arun S. Maini at the Defence Group has been a criminal lawyer for over 25 years. If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges and need the advice of an experienced and skilled lawyer to help you through the legal process, call The Defence Group for a free consultation at 877-295-2830 or email us through the Contact Us link throughout our website.