Crown Prosecutor's Role
Crown Prosecutors, also known as prosecutors, Crown counsel or, simply Crown, are lawyers employed by the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Crown counsel and defence counsel are officers of the court and members of the Law Society of British Columbia.
One of the responsibilities of Crown counsel as set out in the Crown Counsel Act is charge assessment. This means that it is Crown’s responsibility to review every report received from the police and decide whether or not charges should be approved.
There are two components to the charge approval standard: an evidentiary test, which requires there be a substantial likelihood of conviction, and a public interest test. The evidentiary test is met when Crown counsel is satisfied there is a strong, solid case of substance to present to the court. Once Crown counsel is satisfied that the evidentiary test is met, Crown counsel determines whether the public interest requires a prosecution. Criminal Justice Branch policy outlines the public interest factors in favour of a prosecution, those factors against prosecution and additional factors to be considered in the public interest.
Crown counsel does not investigate cases, that is the function of the police or, in some kinds of offences, other investigative agencies such as officers responsible for the enforcement of environmental protection legislation.
If the report from the police does not meet the evidentiary standard, Crown counsel may request further investigation from the police to determine whether that standard can be met.
If the evidentiary standard is met but Crown counsel is satisfied that a prosecution is not necessary in the public interest, Crown counsel can:
· not approve charges when it appears that no further action is required to protect the public or make the perpetrator accountable for their actions
· refer the accused to an alternative measures program (also called “diversion”) if the accused is an appropriate candidate for such a program and the public interest factors support referral of the particular individual to that program.
Guidelines for determining which cases meet such factors have also been developed by the Criminal Justice Branch and may be found in the Charge Approval Policy and the Alternative Measures Policy here.
Laying Information and More
If both the evidentiary and public interest tests in favour of a prosecution are met, Crown counsel will determine which offences are appropriate and prepare the necessary Information, that is the document setting out the charges, for the police officer to swear before a justice of the peace or a judge. The swearing of such an Information is called 'laying a charge'.
If police have issued documents requiring the accused to attend court or they have set conditions of release, such as no communication with certain persons or no firearms terms, Crown counsel reviews those documents before the accused is released. If the documents appear appropriate and in order, the police officer brings those documents to the justice of the peace or judge for their review. Once those documents are confirmed, failure to attend court in accordance with those documents will result in a warrant for the arrest of the accused and the accused may be prosecuted for disobeying conditions of the release.
If no documents have been issued by the police with respect to court attendance, Crown counsel will determine whether to request that a summons be issued by the court. Thissummons would require the accused to attend court a future date. Alternately, Crown may also determine whether an application for a warrant should be made. Crown counsel will ensure that any requests are made to the justice of the peace or judge.
Youth Crime Procedures
Persons between 12 and 18 years of age who are accused of a crime or other offence are prosecuted under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The procedures followed are generally the same as procedures for adult court, except that the focus of legislation is on the rehabilitation of young people and their reintegration into society. Accordingly, the sentencing structure and options are different for youths and the identity of a young person is generally not disclosed to the public. This allows the youth to avoid the stigma of a prosecution and it helps to facilitate participation in school and the workplace.