GRANBY, Que. -- The father and stepmother of a slain seven-year-old Quebec girl have appeared in court to set a date for the next steps in what's likely to be a long and winding legal saga.

The pair, dressed all in black, returned to a courtroom Monday in a case began April 29 when the girl was found in critical condition in her family home in Granby, east of Montreal. She died a day later in hospital.

The young girl's father faces four charges: criminal negligence causing death, unlawful confinement, failing to provide the necessities of life, and child abandonment.

The victim's stepmother faces one count each of second-degree murder, unlawful confinement and aggravated assault.

While the two will be tried separately, they will have a joint preliminary inquiry that's tentatively planned for mid-February.

However, the court heard that an important witness may not be available, which could lengthen the process. The case returns to court Dec. 12.

Crown prosecutor Laurence Belanger said the trial itself is likely to be a complex one that could take weeks.

"There are a number of discussions between the parties regarding the file," she said. "It's a major file, which will require several witnesses to be heard."

Defence lawyer Martin Latour, who represents the father, expressed concern that many citizens online and in "non-traditional medias" are disregarding a publication ban protecting the identity of those involved.

Belanger, for her part, encouraged Latour to report the violations, saying those who break the publication ban could be prosecuted.

The young girl's death sparked outrage in the community and raised questions about the effectiveness of the province's youth protection system, leading the government to order a number of investigations.

An inquiry into Quebec's maligned youth protection system got underway last week with a declaration from its chair that the exercise itself reflects a societal failure.

The father was granted bail in September, while the stepmother remains in detention.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2019