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If you identify as Aboriginal or Indigenous and you plead guilty to a crime or are found guilty, you might be able to have your bail or sentencing hearing in a First Nations/Indigenous Court in BC. You might be brought into a First Nations/Indigenous Court by referral from a judge, defence lawyer, or Crown lawyer. Or you can request to go to First Nations/Indigenous Court. It’s your choice to have your matter heard in First Nations/Indigenous Court. Talk to your lawyer or First Nations/Indigenous Court duty counsel about what’s best for you.
First Nations/Indigenous Courts are criminal sentencing courts that use restorative justice and traditional ways to reach balance and healing. BC's First Nations/Indigenous Courts are often called Gladue courts.
First Nations/Indigenous Courts focus on balancing rehabilitation, accountability, and healing. The judge, your lawyer, Crown counsel, Elders and your community, and your family work with you to create a healing plan to help restore your mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health.
You might still be sentenced to jail. If you're sentenced to jail, the judge must still consider your unique circumstances in their decision.
How First Nations/Indigenous Court can help you
First Nations Court focuses on community and healing. First Nations Court takes a restorative justice approach to sentencing.
Restorative justice means:
- The judge works with you and your community to come up with a sentence other than jail when possible.
- Your sentence is meant to restore balance to you, make amends to the victim(s), and heal your community.
- You and your lawyer work with others to come up with a healing plan.
Before deciding on your sentence or bail conditions, the judge thinks about:
- your background
- your current needs
- where you can get help for the challenges that brought you to court
The judge might order the following information to guide their decision:
- Gladue submissions (oral or written statements about you as an Aboriginal person)
- Forensic psychiatric assessments (assessment and report by a doctor)
- Pre-sentence report, written by a probation officer
- Gladue report, written by a Gladue report writer
A Judge Explains BC's Indigenous and First Nations Courts
Where to find BC First Nations/Indigenous Courts
BC First Nations/Indigenous Courts are in the locations listed below. Court is usually held once a month at each location. Click the links below and scroll down for information on court sitting dates.
What happens at First Nations/Indigenous Court
You work with a team of people to come up with a healing plan. You can bring family, friends, community members, and other support people to First Nations/Indigenous Court with you. They don't have to speak out in court. But everyone has a chance to be heard, including
- your lawyer
- duty counsel, if you don't have a lawyer
- your family
- your friends or a support person
- members of your community, or the community in which the harm occurred
- the victim
- the victim's family
- other affected community members
Other people with a role in the court might also speak, including:
- social workers
- Native courtworkers
- probation officers
- victim services workers
- police officers
After everyone who wants to speak has had the opportunity, the judge talks with everyone to come up with a healing plan.
How a healing plan helps
A healing plan:
- helps you, your community, and the victims of your crime to heal and move on
- helps you work on the challenges that got you into trouble with the law in the first place (for example, you might have to go to sweats or a healing circle, or do community service)
- requires you to take responsibility for your actions
In most First Nations/Indigenous Courts, you return to the court several times, so the judge and Elders can see your progress with your healing plan.
First Nations Court New Westminster (Justice Education Society video)
A Judge Explains Aboriginal Family Healing Case Conferences
How to transfer your case to First Nations/Indigenous Court
You might be able to have your case transferred to a First Nations/Indigenous Court if:
- you identify as Aboriginal, and
- you plead guilty to a criminal offence.
You or your lawyer can call First Nations Court duty counsel to see if you can go to First Nations/Indigenous Court. They can tell you how to get your case transferred there. They can answer any questions you have about First Nations/Indigenous Court.
604-601-6074 (Greater Vancouver)
1-877-601-6066 (elsewhere in BC)
It’s your choice to have your matter heard in First Nations/Indigenous Court. Talk to your lawyer or First Nations Court duty counsel about what's best for you.
Who can help at court
It's a very good idea to get legal advice on or before your day in court. Duty counsel can give you free legal advice about:
- the charges against you
- court procedures
- your legal rights
Duty counsel can help you if:
- you can't get a legal aid lawyer
- you haven't yet applied for legal aid.
Duty counsel can also represent you at a bail hearing. If there's time, they can help you with a guilty plea. Don't plead guilty without getting legal advice first.
First Nations Court duty counsel can help you. They do everything duty counsel does and can also:
- tell you how to apply to have your case transferred to First Nations/Indigenous Court
- represent you at your bail hearing in First Nations/Indigenous Court
- go to your sentencing hearing in First Nations/Indigenous Court
Indigenous community legal workers — Give legal information and limited advice services
Native Courtworkers and Counselling Association of BC — Culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system
First Nations Court duty counsel — Give free legal advice about having your case transferred to First Nations Court and the charges against you
Community support and services
Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — See their Guide to Indigenous Organizations and Services in British Columbia for organizations that can help
Crisis support and counselling
First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line — Free, experienced, and culturally competent help — Call 1-855-242-3310 (24 hours every day)
Métis Crisis Line — A service of Métis Nation British Columbia — Call 1-833-638-4722 (24 hours every day)
Indian Residential School Crisis Line — Call 1-800-721-0066 (24 hours every day)
Health and wellness
BC Association of Friendship Centres — Find a friendship centre in your area
First Nations Health Authority — Call 1-866-913-0033
Access Pro Bono Law Clinics — Free legal help
BC211 — Free confidential referrals to help and information — Call 211
Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program — Free legal help — Bella Coola
Department of Justice Indigenous Justice Program — Alternatives to mainstream justice processes
First Nations and Métis Outreach Program (The Law Centre, University of Victoria) — Free legal help — Victoria
Lawyer Referral Service — Helps you find a lawyer to take your case — Call 604-687-3221 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-800-663-1919 (elsewhere in BC)
Métis Crisis Line — Call 1-833-638-4722 (1-833-MétisBC), 24 hours every day
Native Courtworkers and Counselling Association of BC — Culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system — Call 604-985-5355 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-877-811-1190 (elsewhere in BC)
PovNet — Information about poverty issues and links to organizations that can help
UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic — Free legal help on various legal matters — Call 604-684-7334 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-888-684-7334 (elsewhere in BC)
Upper Skeena Counselling & Legal Assistance Society — Free legal help — Hazelton
Victoria Native Friendship Centre — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794