Role of Crown Counsel
Crown counsel are prosecutors who work for B.C.’s prosecution service - the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Justice. The Criminal Justice Branch operates independently of government and within the justice system. They do not represent the government, the police or the victim of an offence. The courts have described the role of Crown counsel in Canada as a quasi-judicial function and a matter of significant public duty. In our system of justice, when a crime is committed against a victim, it is also a crime against our society as a whole. Therefore, prosecutors do not represent individual victims; they perform their function on behalf of the community.
Crown counsel are entrusted with the prosecution of all offences and appeals in British Columbia related to the Criminal Code of Canada and provincial regulatory offences. Crown Counsel advise government on all criminal law matters and develop policies and procedures for the administration of criminal justice in British Columbia.
The responsibilities of Crown counsel are defined in the Crown Counsel Act. The act ensures the independence of the prosecution service. Prosecutors are guided by the policies of the Criminal Justice Branch and they are ultimately accountable to the assistant deputy attorney general (ADAG). Under the act, the ADAG is head of the Criminal Justice Branch and is responsible for the administration of the branch and the day-to-day operations of the prosecution service. While the Attorney General is responsible for overseeing the administration of justice in the province, the Attorney General does not normally become involved in prosecution decisions relating to individual cases.
It is Crown counsel who lay charges in British Columbia. They review investigation reports from police and investigative agencies and conduct a charge assessment in relation to offences under the Criminal Code, Youth Criminal Justice Act or under provincial statutes. Charging decisions are made in accordance with the branch’s charge assessment guidelines policy, which requires both a substantial likelihood of conviction and that a prosecution is in the public interest. Crown counsel make their charge assessment and other prosecutorial decisions impartially, independent of any outside influence, including political influence.
Where there is a significant possibility of a perceived or real improper influence on the prosecution process, the head of the prosecution service – the ADAG of the Criminal Justice Branch – will appoint a respected lawyer from outside the prosecution service as a Special Prosecutor to handle the case.
While B.C. prosecutors conduct prosecutions vigorously once they have made a principled charge approval decision, based on the prosecution service standards, their first duty is to ensure the trial 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 not to obtain a conviction at any cost but, rather, to ensure that justice is done in a fair, impartial, efficient and respectful manner.