BASIC PRINCIPALS OF CANADIAN LAW
The criminal justice system is built on a few important principles. B.C. shares these basic principles with all common law criminal justice systems around the world.
Presumption of Innocence – Every criminal case begins with the presumption that the accused person is innocent. It is up to Crown counsel, representing the community, to PROVE beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.
Due Process – Due process is related to the presumption of innocence. It involves a thorough examination of the facts of each case – and recognition of the importance of protecting the legal rights of those charged with criminal offences.
Independent Judiciary – Anyone accused of a crime has the right to have their case decided by fair and impartial judges, without interference of any kind, from any source. This is the concept of judicial independence. While judicial decisions may not result in everyone being happy, the justice system is founded on public confidence that decisions – whether popular or not – are made after a full and fair hearing and without outside influence.
Openness and Accessibility of Court – Only through an open and public process can the public have confidence in the justice system and be satisfied that parties are treated fairly.
Equality Before the Law – All people in Canada are equal under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Crown Independence and Responsibilities
In Canada, a crime against one person is regarded as a crime against society. Crown counsel do not represent the police or victim. They represent the community as a whole.
Crown counsel are independent officers of the courtand are protected from outside influence by the Crown Counsel Act. The courts have described the role of Crown counsel in Canada as a quasi-judicial function and matter of public duty.
The first duty of Crown counsel is to ensure the prosecution process is fair to all, evidence is presented thoroughly and accurately and the independence and integrity of the justice process is maintained. Their duty as professionals is to evaluate and present evidence to the court in a vigorous manner. They ensure justice is done in a fair, impartial, efficient and respectful manner.
Key Parts of the Criminal Justice System
The provincial and federal governments work together to provide criminal justice services to British Columbians.
This section describes the role of each of the key parts of the criminal justice system in B.C. They include:
How the Criminal Justice System Works
This section describes how the criminal justice system works in British Columbia, from reporting and investigating a crime to releasing and pardoning offenders.
Investigating a Crime
Police are responsible for conducting criminal investigations. At the investigation stage, police gather and review information to figure out what happened. This may involve, for example, examining the place where the crime occurred and talking tovictims and witnesses.
Based on what they learn, the police decide whether there is enough evidence to prove an accused committed a crime. If they think there is, they may make a report to Crown counselrecommending that charges be laid.
Here are the common steps in a police investigation.
- The investigation begins when a crime or an incident is reported or known to police.
- Police gather information from the victim, witnesses and other people involved.
- Police may ask the victim to complete a statement.
- Police may ask witnesses to complete a witness statement.
- In some situations, police may also examine the crime site to get any physical evidence. This may include forensic evidence.
- Police review the information collected and decide what action to take.
Once the police complete their investigation, they will decide if there is enough evidence to recommend to Crown counsel that acharge be laid against the accused person. Their recommendation forms part of the report to Crown counsel (RCC).
Charge Assessment Guidelines
Crown counsel review every report sent to them by police or other investigative agencies. They follow a charge assessment guidelines policy for making decisions about whether to charge someone with a criminal offence. The policy is part of the Crown counsel policy manual.
The policy requires Crown counsel to make their charge assessment decision based on the following, two-part formula:
- Is there is a substantial likelihood of conviction based on evidence presented in the RCC? In other words, is there a strong, solid case to present in court?
- If yes, is a prosecution required in the public interest? Crown counsel consider many factors in deciding this, including how serious the allegations are. For example, whether a victim suffered serious harm or a weapon was used.
The purpose of this charge assessment is to ensure only solid cases and those in the public interest move forward to trial. Crown counsel can decide no charges should be laid, charges should be laid or an alternative to the court process may be appropriate.
If Crown counsel decides to lay charges, the charges will be set out in a document issued by a justice of the peace called an information.
Don’t talk about your testimony with ANYONE until you testify.
The lawyers will start with some simple questions about you and try to determine what you know about the alleged crime. Make sure your answers are based on what you actually saw and heard, and not on what you think probably happened – it’s ok to say that you don’t know. Do not give opinions unless one of the lawyers asks you to.