Abbotsford’s mayor says police, not Crown counsel, should be the ones to decide whether criminal charges are laid in court.
But a prominent law professor says the idea that such a change would reduce crime “is nonsensical.”
With the city having seen increasing property crime rates in recent years, Mayor Henry Braun says he is “fed up” and that legislative changes are needed to change how the courts operate.
“There have to be some changes to our criminal justice system,” he told The News recently. “Our police can’t fix this if there’s a revolving door with the courts.”
Braun said he had recently heard of an arrest made by local police in which an offender with dozens of convictions on his record had been caught stealing.
“They have more evidence than Crown counsel would ever need to bring a conviction, but what happened when it came time to lay a charge?”
Braun continued: “Crown counsel makes that call. But they decided they had higher profile cases to work on and they weren’t going to weigh a charge. So what happens? This person gets released. Well, he’s out on the street doing the same thing he was doing yesterday.”
Braun said the current system simply isn’t working when it comes to stopping chronic property-crime offenders.
“We have to find a way to get them off our streets, and our court system is failing this.”
Braun says he has spoken to B.C. solicitor general Mike Farnworth about the issue, and says giving police the final say in whether charges are laid would help.
Currently, police collect evidence in a case and can recommend charges, but the final decision lies with Crown counsel. Lawyers there use a two-step formula that first considers whether there is a likelihood of conviction, and then factor in whether prosecution is in the public interest. An online summation of the process notes that there are “many factors in deciding this, including how serious the allegations are.”
An independent review of the charge assessment process in 2012 found that Crown counsel should continue to have the final say.
Benjamin Perrin, a professor at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law and the co-author of an annual report card on provincial justice systems, suggested that taking charge-laying authority away from Crown would be a move in the wrong direction.
“Jurisdictions, like Ontario, where the police can directly lay charges typically see a much higher proportion of criminal charges subsequently stayed or withdrawn,” he said in an email to The News. That means more delays and inefficiencies in the criminal justice system. The idea that crime will be combatted by giving the police the ability to lay charges – without approval by a Crown prosecutor – is nonsensical, Perrin said.
Perrin’s report cards have shown that Ontario’s justice system is rife with delays. Forty-three per cent of criminal charges that are laid in the province are eventually stayed or withdrawn and barely half of those that do go to trial result in a conviction.
In Quebec and B.C., by contrast, far more charges that are laid actually end up in convictions.