Role of Special Prosecutors
Special prosecutors are appointed where there is a significant potential for a perceived or real improper influence in prosecutorial decision making in a given case. The paramount consideration is the need to maintain public confidence in the administration of criminal justice.
The independent role of the special prosecutor in British Columbia’s justice system is defined by the Crown Counsel Act and is intended to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Historically, special prosecutors have been appointed in cases involving cabinet ministers, senior public or ministry officials, senior police officers or persons in close proximity to these individuals.
Special prosecutors are appointed from a list of senior and experienced lawyers in private practice. This list has been jointly approved by the president of the Law Society, the deputy attorney general and the assistant deputy attorney general. This approval process ensures a consistent high standard is applied to those cases which are referred to a special prosecutor. Only the head of B.C.’s Prosecution Service – the assistant deputy attorney general of the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Justice – has authority to appoint a special prosecutor and define the special prosecutor’s mandate.
Once appointed, special prosecutors are independent of B.C.’s prosecution service. Special prosecutors must adhere to the policies of the Criminal Justice Branch including the branch’s charge assessment guidelines. Where there is a decision to prosecute, the special prosecutor would ordinarily conduct the prosecution and any subsequent appeals. If the Attorney General, the deputy attorney general or the assistant deputy attorney general wishes to intervene in the decisions of the special prosecutor, they would have to do so in writing and publish their directions in the B.C. Gazette, the official public legal record of government notices.