Understanding the Criminal Justice System

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(This column is intended to address commonly asked questions about the criminal justice process for defendants. We intend to explain the roles of the various persons at each stage in this process beginning with the arrest and questioning stage and concluding with further information and resources. We will also address how long you can be held in custody and other rights and responsibilities you should be aware of. This column in no way replaces your need to personally consult your attorney-at-law or your own readings on the existing law (Prepared by Sparman and Small attorneys-at-law)


An adjournment in this context refers to the temporary stopping/pause of proceedings or the postponement of proceedings to a later time or date. Every adjourned date or time is subsequent to the first date of proceedings/trial. Proceedings/trials are usually adjourned if counsel for the defence or prosecution are absent or unavailable, for issues of disclosure to be resolved, if an important witness is absent, to allow settlement discussions between parties or for parties to have time to prepare submissions or review the facts in the case where there is a jury. In short, cases are adjourned if a later date or time will better facilitate the resolution of a particular issue relating to the case.



A case is usually dismissed/discharged before the guilt or innocence of an accused/defendant is determined by the Magistrate/Judge or jury. In other words a case is dismissed/discharged before the merits of the case is properly considered by the Judicial Officer or jury. The two main reasons cases are commonly dismissed are: (1) lack of evidence to establish probable cause and (2)prosecutorial misconduct.

Lack of evidence to establish probable cause

There must be enough evidence to establish a prima facie case against the defendant after the defendant has been charged for an offence. In the absence of such evidence, an oral application can be properly made by the defendant’s counsel for the Judicial officer to dismiss the case against the defendant for ‘want of prosecution’. Alternatively a no case submission can be made by the defendant’s counsel at the end of the prosecution’s case. However, it should be noted that a dismissal is not an acquittal. As such, in some instances after a case is dismissed or discharged the prosecution may relay charges against the defendant and proceed with those charges against him/her.

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