If you identify as Aboriginal and you plead guilty to a crime, you may be able to have your bail or sentencing hearing in one of BC's First Nations/Indigenous Courts. You may be brought into a First Nations/Indigenous Court by referral from a judge, defense 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. With the advice of Elders and your community, the judge creates a healing plan to help restore your mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health.
You may still be sentenced to jail. If you are 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, and
- where you can get help for the challenges that brought you to court.
The judge may order the following information to guide their decision making:
- 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
Locations of BC First Nations/Indigenous Courts
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, and
- other impacted community members.
Other people with a role in the court may also speak, including:
- social workers,
- Native Courtworkers,
- probation officers,
- victim services workers,and
- police officers.
After everyone who wants to speak has had an 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 may have to go to sweats or a healing circle, or do community service); and
- 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.
How to transfer your case to First Nations/Indigenous Court
You may be able to have your case transferred to a First Nations/Indigenous Court if:
- you identify as Aboriginal, AND
- you're pleading 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, and
- your legal rights.
Duty counsel can help you if:
- you can't get a legal aid lawyer, or
- 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, and
- go to your sentencing hearing in First Nations/Indigenous Court.
A legal information outreach worker can help you at First Nations Court in New Westminster. They can give you legal information and refer you to other services.
Aboriginal community legal workers — Give legal information and limited advice services
Legal information outreach workers — Give legal information and make referrals
First Nations Court duty counsel — Give free legal advice about having your case transferred to First Nations Court and the charges against you
BC Association of Friendship Centres — Find a friendship centre in your area
BC211 — Free confidential referrals to help and information — Call 211
Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — See their Guide to Indigenous Organizations and Services in British Columbia for organizations that can help
PovNet — Information about poverty issues and links to organizations that can help
Access Pro Bono Law Clinics — Free legal help
Carole James, MLA, Community Office — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794
Department of Justice Community-based Justice Programs — Alternatives to mainstream justice processes
First Nations and Métis Outreach Program (The Law Centre) — Free legal help — Victoria
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 (no charge outside Greater Vancouver)
Bella Coola Legal Advocacy Program — Free legal help — Bella Coola
UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic — Free legal help on various legal matters — 604-684-7334 (Greater Vancouver) or 1-888-684-7334 (call no charge)
Upper Skeena Counselling & Legal Assistance Society — Free legal help — Hazelton
Victoria Native Friendship Centre — Free legal clinic — Call 250-412-7794