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From the arrest to the sentencing of an accused person, a multitude of steps are involved in a criminal prosecution. One of the most decisive steps is the preliminary inquiry. In essence, this hearing determines whether or not the lawsuit will go to trial.

What is a preliminary inquiry?

The preliminary inquiry is a hearing, held after the bail hearing, during which the evidence of the charge is presented to a judge to assess its relevance and the legitimacy of a trial. In Quebec, a preliminary inquiry is always conducted before a judge of the Court of Quebec. Its function is not to determine the accused person’s guilt but rather to determine whether the evidence compiled by the prosecution is sufficient and valid under the law to bring the accused to justice.

In order to proceed with a preliminary inquiry, two conditions must be met: the request must be made by the defence or by the Crown Attorney and the nature of the offence must be serious.

The different stages of the preliminary inquiry

The presentation of the prosecution’s evidence

The first step in a preliminary inquiry is the presentation of the evidence gathered by the prosecution to the investigating judge. The prosecution must present to the court all the documents, testimonies and various evidence that prove that the accused person did in fact commit the offence(s) with which they are charged. However, the judge presiding over the inquiry is not required to judge the quality of this evidence. The judge relies solely on the existence of evidence to arrive at his verdict.

The defence’s retort

During a preliminary inquiry, the defence is very rarely allowed to present the evidence that prove the accused person’s innocence. However, counsel for the accused is required to cross-examine the witnesses summoned and to challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution in order to raise doubt in the mind of the judge and to influence his decision.

The judge’s verdict

After hearing the prosecution’s evidence and the defence’s argument, the preliminary inquiry judge must decide whether or not the accused will be put on trial.

In the event of a positive verdict, the accused will undergo a trial in which he faces the various charges before a different judge from the one who conducted the preliminary inquiry. In some cases, the preliminary inquiry judge may decide to introduce additional charges if other offences have been discovered during the investigation. For example, a burglar may be charged with theft as well as physical and/or verbal aggression on others if they used violence to achieve their ends.

In the case of a negative verdict, charges against the accused will be dropped due to insufficient evidence. The accused will then be free and immune from any financial or custodial repercussions.

The key points about a preliminary inquiry’s challenges

The preliminary inquiry is a decisive step in the process of a criminal prosecution. This hearing represents a considerable challenge since it presents the prosecution’s evidence and determines whether the trial will take place or not. However, the preliminary inquiry does not make a judgment on the accused person’s guilt.

If you are facing charges, it is important to ensure your defence. Me Valérie Riendeau is a lawyer that specializes in criminal law and can gather the necessary information to best defend you. Don’t hesitate to request a free consultation now by contacting our firm.