Charge Assessment Guidelines – Basic Principles of Canadian Criminal Law

Laying Charges

Once the police complete their investigation, they will decide if there is enough evidence to recommend to Crown counsel that a charge 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.

Types of Offences

There are three different kinds of offences.

Summary Offences – These are less serious offences. The maximum penalty for a summary offence is usually a $2,000 fine and/or six months in jail. Some summary offences have higher maximum sentences. Alternative measures can be considered for less serious offences.

Indictable Offences – These are more serious offences and include theft over $5,000, break and enter, aggravated sexual assault and murder. Maximum penalties for indictable offences vary and include life in prison. Some indictable offences have minimum penalties.

Hybrid Offences – These are offences that can dealt with as either summary or indictable. Crown counsel makes the decision about how the offence will be dealt with.

Visit Types of Offences for more information.

Instead of laying charges, Crown counsel may send a caution letter, refer the matter foralternative measures if the accused is an adult or extrajudicial sanctions if the accused is ayouth or begin court proceedings.

More Information

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Basic Principles of Canadian Criminal 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.

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.