News & Media

The Criminal Justice System at Work

March 09, 2017

Criminal law falls within the mandate of the federal government so criminal law is federal, not provincial. While the Globe and Mail is commenting on an Alberta case, in every province it is the crown’s duty to screen all cases to determine whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. Where there is no reasonable prospect a crown should withdraw the charges. This is true for cases as simple as uttering threats to cases as complex as 1st degree murder.

According to the Globe and Mail,

The Alberta government is instructing prosecutors not to waste time and money on serious and violent cases – including first-degree murder – when they have only a “slim chance” of a conviction. Instead, they are being told to accept plea bargains to lesser offences. In minor cases, a police arrest with no prosecution at all “may be enough of a deterrent.” And they need not prosecute complex, time-consuming fraud cases if an offender has already faced sanctions from a regulatory body.

The instructions are part of a new “triage protocol” in which prosecutors must now ask themselves, for crimes at the highest end just as at the lowest, whether securing a difficult conviction is worth the effort and expense.

While victim rights are important, the public needs to remember that criminal law is not about a victim’s day in court or making the victim whole, it is about assigning blame and determining the appropriate punishment. Often times where there is no reasonable prospect of conviction prosecutors may offer plea bargains to lesser charges to secure a conviction. For financial crimes, where a regulatory body has already assigned blame and sanctions, often times it would be redundant to proceed in the criminal court for a second determination guilt and penalty.

This form of triage is necessary and is not new to the criminal justice system.

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