An adjournment is re-scheduling of a court proceeding, be it arraignment, plea, trial, sentencing, or otherwise.
The granting of an adjournments is at the discretion of the judge (e.g. see s.571 and 645; 669.1(2)), but in practice is a frequent occurrence.
Powers of Clerk to Adjourn
Adjournment when no jury summoned
474 (1) Where the competent authority has determined that a panel of jurors is not to be summoned for a term or sittings of the court for the trial of criminal cases in any territorial division, the clerk of the court may, on the day of the opening of the term or sittings, if a judge is not present to preside over the court, adjourn the court and the business of the court to a subsequent day.
Adjournment on instructions of judge
(2) A clerk of the court for the trial of criminal cases in any territorial division may, at any time, on the instructions of the presiding judge or another judge of the court, adjourn the court and the business of the court to a subsequent day.
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 474; 1994, c. 44, s. 31.
Jurisdiction to Adjourn a Matter
General adjournments of summary offences:
(2) Any court, judge or provincial court judge having jurisdiction to try an accused or a defendant, or any clerk or other proper officer of the court, or in the case of an offence punishable on summary conviction, any justice, may, at any time before or after the plea of the accused or defendant is taken, adjourn the proceedings.
R.S.C. 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 137
A Preliminary Inquiry Judge may adjourn under s.537:
Powers of justice
537. (1) A justice acting under this Part may
- (a) adjourn an inquiry from time to time and change the place of hearing, where it appears to be desirable to do so by reason of the absence of a witness, the inability of a witness who is ill to attend at the place where the justice usually sits or for any other sufficient reason;
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 537; 1991, c. 43, s. 9; 1994, c. 44, s. 53; 1997, c. 18, s. 64; 2002, c. 13, s. 28; 2008, c. 18, s. 22.
A provincial court judge dealing with a summary matter:
803. (1) The summary conviction court may, in its discretion, before or during the trial, adjourn the trial to a time and place to be appointed and stated in the presence of the parties or their counsel or agents.
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 803; 1991, c. 43, s. 9; 1994, c. 44, s. 79; 1997, c. 18, s. 112; 2008, c. 18, s. 45.
A provincial court judge dealing with an indictable matter:
Adjournment of non-jury trial
571. A judge or provincial court judge acting under this Part [Pt. XIX — indictable offences — trial without jury] may from time to time adjourn a trial until it is finally terminated.
R.S.C. 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 203 [annotation added]
The term "judge" for s. 571 is defined in s. 552 as a superior court judge.
Adjournments of trials on indictable matters:
(3) An accused is not entitled as of right to have his trial postponed but the court may, if it considers that the accused should be allowed further time to plead, move to quash or prepare for his defence or for any other reason, adjourn the trial to a later time in the session or sittings of the court, or to the next of any subsequent session or sittings of the court, on such terms as the court considers proper.
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 606; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 125; 2002, c. 13, s. 49; 2015, c. 13, s. 21.
Any judge dealing with an indictable matter with a jury:
645. (1) The trial of an accused shall proceed continuously subject to adjournment by the court.
(2) The judge may adjourn the trial from time to time in the same sittings.
Formal adjournment unnecessary
(3) For the purpose of subsection (2), no formal adjournment of trial or entry thereof is required.
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 645; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 133; 1997, c. 18, s. 76; 2001, c. 32, s. 43.
Provincial court judge may adjourn a matter due to non-appearance of prosecutor:
Non-appearance of prosecutor
799. Where, in proceedings to which this Part applies, the defendant appears for the trial and the prosecutor, having had due notice, does not appear, the summary conviction court may dismiss the information or may adjourn the trial to some other time on such terms as it considers proper.
R.S., c. C-34, s. 734.
Where the accused has been misled or prejudiced by any issues found in the indictment or information, the accused may adjourn a matter. (see s. 485, 547, and 601)
Where a party wishes to call an expert witness and did not give notice, the available remedy is an adjournment under 657.3 (5).
Discretion of the Judge
The decision is reviewable on the circumstances of the particular case, including the ability and quality of the accused.
The decision may be reviewed by an appellate court on the basis of whether the judge gave "sufficient weight to all the relevant consideration".
The judge does not need to mention every factor considered.
This exercise of discretion is afforded considerable deference.
A judge is typically not inclined to adjourn trial matters. The cost of resources to bring a matter to trial and the desire to bring a matter to a conclusion speaks to the judge's interest in having a matter proceed. This is balanced against the accused's right to a fair trial and right to be tried within a reasonable time.
Where the judge has grounds to believe that the request for an adjournment is a sham, the judge may refuse the adjournment.
See a review of principles at R v White at para 17.
- R v White, 2010 ABCA 66 (CanLII) at para 14
- R v Barrette, 1976 CanLII 180 (SCC),  2 SCR 121 at 124-125
- White, supra
- White, supra at para 15
R v Beals (1993), 126 NSR (2d) 130(*no CanLII links)
at paras 16 and 29
R v Tortora, 2010 BCCA 547 (CanLII), 297 BCAC 128 at para 23
- R v Toor, 2001 ABCA 88 (CanLII) at para 15 ("[t]he granting of adjournments and the exercise of judicial discretion are generally afforded a considerable degree of deference, and the law is well established in the area.")
R v Travis, 2012 ABQB 629 (CanLII) at paras 61-63
- R v Amos, 2012 ONCA 334 (CanLII)
Reasons for Adjournment
Lack of Counsel
The judge has discretion to adjourn a trial on request of the accused for reason that they are not represented by counsel. The judge must consider the accused constitutional right to a fair trial. However, the accused also has the right to represent himself. Further, the right to be represented by counsel must be exercised "diligently and honestly", thus they may be refused if they have not acted honestly and diligently. The accused cannot be refused where the absence of counsel is not their fault.
However, an accused who chooses not to have counsel cannot appeal a conviction on the grounds of not having effective representation.
When considering whether to allow an adjournment by a self-represented accused to seek counsel, the judge should consider principles including:
- the right to counsel is not absolute;
- each application for an adjournment must be decided on its own facts;
- generally, an accused should not be refused an adjournment if the fact that he is without counsel is not his fault, but that of his counsel;
- the right of an accused to retain counsel must be exercised honestly and diligently so as not to delay a scheduled trial; and
- the scope of review by an appeal court of the exercise of the discretionary power to adjourn a scheduled trial is relatively wide as the consequences of a refusal may be to deprive an accused of his right to be represented by counsel.
Standard of Review
The proper standard of review on appeal of this decision is one of whether the discretion was "exercised judicially", which requires asking "whether the trial judge has given sufficient weight to all relevant considerations".
R v Halnuck, 1996 CanLII 5275 (NS C.A.)
R v Beals, (1993) 126 N.S.R. (2d) 130 (C.A.)(*no CanLII links)
R v Marzocchi, 2006 CanLII 13096 (ON C.A.)
R v Bitternose, 2009 SKCA 54 (CanLII)
R v Bissonette 2003 ABCA 93 (CanLII)
- R v Harris, 2009 SKCA 96 (CanLII) at para 27
R v Le (TD), 2011 MBCA 83 (CanLII) at para 36
R v White, 2010 ABCA 66 (CanLII) at para 17
- see also R v McCallen (1999), 1999 CanLII 3685 (ON CA), 131 C.C.C. (3d) 518 (Ont. C.A.) per O'Connor JA at para 40
Le(TD), ibid. at para 37
White, ibid. at para 15
Lack of Preparation
It is often expected that an adjournment will be granted where there is late arriving evidence.
Where a lawyer fails to properly prepare, an adjournment is not required as there is a breach of their duty to the court and client.
In order to adjourn a trial matter on the grounds of missing witnesses the applicant must establish:
- that the absent witnesses are material in the case;
- that the party applying has not been guilty of laches or neglect in arranging for the attendance of the witnesses; and
- that there is a reasonable expectation that the witnesses will attend court on the date sought by the party applying for the adjournment.
The judge may also consider other relevant circumstances.
R v LeBlanc 2005 NSCA 37 (CanLII) -- no adjournment for crown in failing to subpeona witnesses
R v Rose (D.A.) (1995), 140 N.S.R.(2d) 151 (SC) 1995 CanLII 4458
R v A.T., 1991 CanLII 6104 (AB Q.B.) - factors to consider
R v Shergill 2009 BCCA 55 (CanLII) -- judge should have granted crown adjournment for missing witness
R v MacDonald, 1998 CanLII 18016 (NL C.A.) -- short adjournment for crown for missing witness
Darville v the Queen (1956), 116 CCC 113 (S.C.C.)(*no CanLII links) at paras 13 to 14
R v Dang, 2005 ABCA 441 (CanLII) -- consequences of delay by adjournment
A failure for the judge to grant a request for adjournment due to late disclosure can amount to an abuse of process requiring a new trial. Before ordering a new trial for refusing to adjourn on account of late disclosure, the court should consider:
- the Crown’s assurance that disclosure was complete,
- the timing and volume of disclosure,
- the seriousness of the charges,
- the requirements of a proper review procedure, and
- the co-operative approach of defence counsel
R v Chu, 2016 SKCA 156 (CanLII) at para 82
Chu, ibid. at para 82