Arraignment and Plea

From Criminal Law Notebook
This page was last substantively updated or reviewed January 2016. (Rev. # 92306)


The purpose of the arraignment is to make a public declaration of the charges against the accused and to inform the accused of the exact allegations before he decides on plea and election.[1]

An arraignment has three components:[2]

  1. calling the accused to the dock or bar;
  2. reading the charge to him; and
  3. asking for a plea.

On summary conviction offences, s. 801 directs the arraignment to occur at the appearance for trial:


801 (1) Where the defendant appears for the trial, the substance of the information laid against him shall be stated to him, and he shall be asked,

(a) whether he pleads guilty or not guilty to the information, where the proceedings are in respect of an offence that is punishable on summary conviction; or
(b) whether he has cause to show why an order should not be made against him, in proceedings where a justice is authorized by law to make an order.

[omitted (2), (3) and "(4) and (5)"]
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 801; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 177, c. 1 (4th Supp.), s. 18(F); 1995, c. 22, s. 10.


Note up: 801(1)

Certain indictable offences will also require the reading of the election address as to mode of trial after the arraignment.[3]


Practice will vary on when the arraignment will happen. It can be at the first appearance, any subsequent appearance, or immediately before trial. In a jury trial, for example, the accused must be arraigned in front of the empanelled jury.

Other Notices

Other formalities required before plea, include informing the accused of his choice of language for trial.

Waiver of Reading

Even where the accused waives reading of the charges, a judge has discretion to read charges to the accused.[4] A judge who insists on consistently reading all charges despite waiver by counsel is an abuse of discretion.[5]

  1. R v Carver, 2013 ABPC 51 (CanLII), per Rosborough J, at para 9
    R v Mitchell, 1997 CanLII 6321 (ON CA), 121 CCC (3d) 139, per Doherty JA, at para 27
  2. Carver, supra, at para 8 citing Criminal Pleading and Practice in Canada, 2nd ed., Canada Law Book, at 14:0010
  3. s. 536(2)
  4. R v AA, 2000 CanLII 22813 (ON SC), 150 CCC (3d) 564, per Hill J aff'd 170 CCC (3d) 449
  5. AA, ibid.


See also: Crown Election and Defence Election

Under s. 536(2), where "an accused is before a justice charged with an indictable offence, other than an offence listed in section 469, and the offence is not one over which a provincial court judge has absolute jurisdiction under section 553" the accused shall have the choice of mode of trial being:

  1. trial by provincial court judge,
  2. trial by Supreme court Judge Alone, with or without a preliminary inquiry; and,
  3. trial by Supreme court Judge and Jury, with or without a preliminary inquiry.


There are only three types of pleas permitted:[1]

  1. plead guilty
  2. plead not guilty; or,
  3. special pleas authorized by Part XX
Pleas permitted

606 (1) An accused who is called on to plead may plead guilty or not guilty, or the special pleas authorized by this Part [Pt. XX – Procedure in Jury Trials and General Provisions (ss. 574 to 672)] and no others.
[omitted (1.1), (1.2), (2), (3), (4), (4.1), (4.2), (4.3), (4.4) and (5)]
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.
[annotation(s) added]


Note up: 606(1)

  1. See s. 606(1)

Plea of Guilty

Plea of Not Guilty and Other Pleas

Refusal to Enter a Plea

[omitted (1), (1.1) and (1.2)]

Refusal to plead

(2) Where an accused refuses to plead or does not answer directly, the court shall order the clerk of the court to enter a plea of not guilty.
[omitted (3), (4), (4.1), (4.2), (4.3), (4.4) and (5)]
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 606; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 125; 2002, c. 13, s. 49.


Note up: 606(2)

Where a defence election exists, and the accused refuses to enter an election, the judge may deem the election as electing to be tried by judge and jury with a preliminary inquiry. [1]

See Also