If You Receive an Appearance Notice or Summons
The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Script 210 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call the Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
This script explains what an appearance notice and a summons are and what to do if you get one of them. Also, check the following related scripts:
- 211, called “Defending Yourself Against a Criminal Charge”
- 212, called “Pleading Guilty to a Criminal Charge”
What is an appearance notice? What is a summons?
Both an appearance notice and a summons are official notices telling a person that they have to appear in court at a specific time and place to answer (or respond to) a criminal charge. Usually, a police officer gives you an appearance notice. You may receive a summons in the mail. If you are personally served with either document, but then you (or your representative) do not come to court when the document requires, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. And you could be charged with failing to appear.
When are these documents used?
They are used when the law doesn’t require the person to be arrested. For example, the police will arrest a person suspected of a crime (a suspect) if the person is likely to leave the area and not appear in court. Or the police may need to arrest a suspect to establish the person’s identity, or to prevent an offence from happening again. The police may also have to arrest a suspect to preserve evidence or to have a judge impose conditions on the person. But if there’s no reason to arrest a suspect, the person is simply notified (or told) – by an appearance notice or summons – that they must come to court.
What’s the difference between an appearance notice and a summons?
An appearance notice is given to a person before they are charged with an offence. A summons is given to a person once they have been charged with an offence.
For example, say that security guards stop you in a store because they believe you have shoplifted something. They call the police. The police give you an appearance notice that requires you to appear in court at a certain time and place to answer to the charge of theft. But the prosecutor (also called Crown Counsel or Crown) may decide not to approve the charge. If that happens, when you go to Court, your name will not be on the Court list. So when you first go to court you should check with the Court Registry to see if you have been charged.
On the other hand, say you were driving home one night, hit a parked car, and just kept on going. A witness saw you and reported the accident to the police. In this case, the police would investigate and recommend that the Crown charge you with an offence. If you are charged, the police may have a summons delivered to you.
What do an appearance notice and a summons tell you?
They tell you the date when you have to go to court (see the next section), the location of the court, and the type of offence you are charged with. There are two types of offences: “summary conviction offences” and “indictable offences.” Summary conviction offences are more minor offences, such as causing a disturbance and shoplifting. Indictable offences are more serious. Examples are murder, sexual assault, and breaking and entering.
The appearance notice or summons will usually have paragraph number 2 filled out. This paragraph says you must go to the local police station on a certain date to have your fingerprints and photograph taken. That date will be some time before your first court appearance. No discussion of the offence takes place at this time, and you don’t need a lawyer. If you don’t go for fingerprinting, you can be arrested and charged with the criminal offence of failing to appear (as long as the original charge against you has been filed in the court registry).
If paragraph 2 on the appearance notice or summons isn’t filled out, you can ignore it.
What is the date on your appearance notice or summons?
The date on the document is just a “first appearance” date when you can tell the court what you plan to do about the charge against you. It’s not a trial date. At your first appearance in court, the Crown gives you information about the charge against you, called the “particulars.” The Crown may also give you his or her position on the sentence, or penalty, that the judge should give you. Usually, the judge will set another date a couple of weeks later, so you and your lawyer have time to receive and review file materials.
What should you do if you get an appearance notice or a summons?
Get legal advice – speak to a lawyer right away, before you do anything else.
If you get an appearance notice or summons, you have to go to court on the date and time shown to answer a criminal charge. If you don’t go, a warrant may be issued for your arrest and you could be charged with failing to appear in court. If the second paragraph has been filled in on the appearance notice or summons, you’ll also have to go to the police station to be fingerprinted and photographed. If you don’t go, a warrant may be issued for your arrest and you could be charged with failing to attend for fingerprints. Speak to a lawyer if you get an appearance notice or a summons.
[updated January 2014]
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