A Saint John couple who admitted to endangering the lives of their five children by failing to provide the necessities of life will return to court later this month to get a date for their sentencing hearing. 

A  court order prevents publishing the identities of the man and woman in order to protect the identities of the children, all under the age of 16. 

The parents pleaded guilty in September to five counts of failing to provide the necessities of life, thereby endangering their children. The offences took place between Jan. 1, 2016, and May 17, 2016..

The woman, who is not being held in custody, appeared in court Wednesday.

Her lawyer, Wes McIntosh, asked the court to accept an agreed-upon statement of facts but provincial court Judge Marco Cloutier was reluctant to proceed without the woman's co-accused.

The woman's partner couldn't be in court because he was in hospital, after suffering a hernia on a work site, court heard. He is represented by Joel Hansen.

Serious and complex

The judge described the case as serious and complex. The case is being prosecuted by Patrick Wilbur and Christopher Ryan.

Wilbur confirmed to the judge that the Crown expects to present evidence of aggravating factors at the sentencing hearing. 

He said the Crown would call a dozen witnesses and produce reports from two dentists and a doctor. Wilbur also advised the court it will receive two booklets of photographs. 

A representative from the Department of Social Development was in court but was not asked to speak. 

There was no discussion about who is caring for the children now. The file indicates the matter has been before a judge multiple times. 

Change of plea

At first, the two accused pleaded not guilty to the charges in July and the case was expected to go to trial. 

Then on Sept. 27, they changed their pleas to guilty on the five counts involving the children. 

They also pleaded guilty to committing mischief by wilfully causing damage to another person's property in excess of $5,000.

McIntosh asked the judge if it would be possible to schedule a date for the sentencing hearing for his client but the request was denied.

McIntosh said the matter has been "hanging over her head."

"There's a lot of stigma," he said.

Wilbur said 90 per cent of of the delays were caused by the defence, but McIntosh said that wasn't caused by his client. He said it was the co-accused who didn't have counsel. 

The couple is due back in court Nov. 24 to set a date for a three-day sentencing hearing.

The judge urged Hansen to notify the court if he thought his client would not be out of hospital by then.