Overview of the Adult Justice System

Stage One: The Investigative Function

When a possible crime is reported to an investigative agency like the police, or the agency itself identifies a possible crime, the agency will investigate and decide whether the incident warrants forwarding a report to Crown counsel (RCC) to B.C.’s prosecution service.

Stage Two: The Prosecution Function

Receiving Reports to Crown Counsel (RCCs)

Police send a RCC if they conclude a crime has been committed. Most categories of offences are the responsibility of B.C.’s Prosecution Service, but some offences are handled by the federal prosecution service, known as the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

At times, police also ask Crown counsel for criminal law legal advice before submitting their RCC.

Charge Assessment

When B.C. prosecutors, known as Crown counsel, receive a RCC from police or another investigative agency, the prosecutors assess whether charges should be laid against the person or persons named in the RCC.

In British Columbia, the Prosecution Service, not police, is almost always responsible for approving the laying of formal charges. This is unlike most other provinces.

Prosecutors review every RCC sent to them by police or other investigative agencies, using the BC Prosecution Service's charge assessment guidelines policy. This policy is part of the Crown counsel policy manual, a public document that guides prosecutors in using their discretion, which ensures independent and impartial prosecutorial decision making.

The charge assessment guidelines policy states prosecutors should, in most cases, make their charge assessment decision according to the following, two-part formula:

  • Crown decides whether there is a substantial likelihood of conviction based on the evidence presented in the RCC. In other words, whether there is a strong, solid case of substance to present to the court.
  • Once the prosecutor decides there is a substantial likelihood of conviction, the second test is whether a prosecution is required in the public interest. The many factors prosecutors must consider in deciding this, including the seriousness of the allegations (for example, whether a victim suffered serious harm or a weapon was used).

Prosecutors can decide that no charges should be laid, charges should be laid or the accused person should be referred to an alternative measures program rather than go to court.

The purpose of the charge assessment is to ensure only solid cases of substance and those in the public interest move forward to trial.

It is not the prosecutor’s primary role in our Canadian justice system to gain a conviction. The prosecutor’s primary role is to ensure the evidence against an accused person is presented vigorously, but fairly, in court. This ensures the accused person’s defence counsel can respond to the evidence and the judge or jury can perform their independent function of deciding the outcome of the charge.

Prosecutors conduct their charge assessments as quickly as possible, with a thorough analysis and principled decision making, to guard against delay in the criminal justice process. Charge assessment for a very few of the most complex cases can take longer.

Stage Three: The Trial Function

If, after they have reviewed the RCC, Crown decide a charge or charges should be laid, the matter will go to court. Although one of their responsibilities is to keep victims informed about the justice process, prosecutors do not act for victims of a crime. Rather, Crown counsel conduct the prosecution on behalf of the whole community.

Crown counsel conduct prosecutions and appeals in every level of court: the Provincial Court of B.C., the B.C. Supreme Court, the B.C. Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. Prosecutions may be before a judge or a judge and jury.

If an accused pleads guilty or is convicted, prosecutors are responsible for recommending appropriate sentences. The final sentencing decision is made by the judge.

Stage Four: The Corrections Function

If the accused is found guilty by a judge or jury, they may be sentenced to a correctional centre or assigned other penalties. Post-sentence reviews, applications, appeals and other legal processes may result in some matters related to a concluded file being resurrected.