A preliminary inquiry is a pre-trial hearing that occur in the Ontario Court of Justice before a judge. The primary purpose of a preliminary inquiry is to test the strength of the Crown’s case. While an accused is not required to have a preliminary inquiry if they do not wish to, it can often be a good opportunity to hear the Crown’s evidence prior to trial. The preliminary inquiry will occur after Crown pre-trials and judicial pre-trials have been conducted.
Preliminary inquiries are reserved for the most serious offences in Canada. The purpose of a preliminary inquiry is to allow the judge to review the evidence to determine if there is enough evidence to set the matter down for trial. It can be thought of as a mini trial before the real trial and is conducted in a manner similar to a trial, with witnesses providing evidence.
The Crown will present evidence to the judge to show that the accused is likely guilty, and that the matter should go to trial. The Crown will call their witnesses and after they are done with their line of questioning, the defence will get an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses. The purpose of cross-examining witnesses is to uncover issues of reliability or credibility which will weaken the Crown’s case.