Prosecutors' roles and responsibilities

The provincial Minister of Justice is given responsibility for proceedings under the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act ( formerly the Young Offenders Act) (Canada) and provincial statutes. The federal Minister of Justice is responsible for criminal proceedings under federal statutes, other than the Criminal Code, and for civil proceedings under federal laws. This division means that the majority of prosecutions in Alberta, as well as in the rest of the country, are handled by provincial prosecutors.

A Crown prosecutor is a lawyer who is authorized to represent the Crown (i.e. the state) before all courts in relation to the prosecution of offences.

The power to lay a charge is found in the Criminal Code. The police have no particular power to lay a charge, but rather the same power as any other individual. Most charges in Alberta are, however, laid by the police and few matters are laid by ordinary citizens. All matters are reviewed by Crown prosecutors before they proceed.

It is common practice for the police to approach the Crown prosecutor for legal advice during the course of an investigation with respect to drafting a charge, obtaining wiretaps or search warrants, and other pre-charge issues. While police and other enforcement agencies investigate wrongdoing, it is ultimately the Crown prosecutor who decides what charges will be prosecuted in court and who subsequently conducts the prosecution. In deciding what charges will proceed, the Crown prosecutor must consider whether or not, based on the evidence, there is a likelihood of conviction, and whether or not prosecution is in the public interest.

Other responsibilities of the Crown prosecutor include dealing with defence counsel in terms of disclosure and issue resolution; interviewing victims and witnesses; general case preparation; and conducting arraignments, preliminary inquiries, trials and sentencing hearings.

The role of the prosecutor within the justice system is commented on in an often cited quote of Justice Rand of the Supreme Court of Canada:

"It cannot be over-emphasized that the purpose of a criminal prosecution is not to obtain a conviction, it is to lay before a jury what the Crown considers to be credible evidence relevant to what is alleged to be a crime. Counsel have a duty to see that all available legal proof of the facts is presented: it should be done firmly and pressed to its legitimate strength but it must also be done fairly. The role of prosecutor excludes any notion of winning or losing; his function is a matter of public duty than which in civil life there can be none charged with greater personal responsibility. It is to be efficiently performed with an ingrained sense of the dignity, the seriousness and the justness of judicial proceedings."

- Boucher v. R. [1955] S.C.R. 16 at 23

The prosecutor is not the lawyer for the police or for victims or complainants. The prosecutor is the representative of the "state" - an organization which includes the accused among its members.

Alberta Justice is committed to demonstrating leadership in contributing to the well-being and self-reliance of Albertans from all racial backgrounds. In that regard, we wish to bring your attention to the Canadian Bar Association Racial Equality Resolutions.

See also:

Crown Prosecutors
The legal community roles and responsibilities