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Laying Charges

In British Columbia, it is Crown counsel who makes the decision about whether charges will be laid or not.

Crown reviews the police investigation report and decides, based on the evidence, case law, and their experience, if there is a strong likelihood of getting a conviction. This is called the 'evidentiary test'. They also decide if a prosecution is in the public interest (based on, for example, the possible danger the suspect poses to others in society). This is called the 'public interest test'.

Although both the police and Crown counsel consider the views of the victim with respect to prosecution and the sentence to be imposed on a conviction, the investigation and decisions about what charge to lay, if any, are based on legal principles and the public interest, not the wishes of the victim. Not everyone charged with a criminal offence will be arrested, and not everyone who is arrested will be charged.

Laying a Charge

If both the evidentiary tests and public interest tests in favour of a prosecution are met, Crown counsel will determine which charges are appropriate and prepare the Information (the document that sets out the charges against the accused). The police officer will then swear before a justice of the peace or a judge that he or she has the necessary grounds to believe that these offences occurred. This is called 'swearing of the Information' or 'laying a charge'.

The charges will remain outstanding until:

  • a conviction (the person is found to be guilty)
  • an acquittal (the person is found to be not guilty)
  • a stay of proceedings (a ruling by the court halting further legal process in a trial) has been entered or the charges withdrawn
  • the accused dies
  • the case is successfully appealed (transferred to a higher court for rehearing)

Once a criminal charge is laid, the person who is accused of the crime is referred to as 'the accused'. The person who reported the crime is referred to as 'the complainant'. This may or may not be the victim of the crime.

If the victim or another witness has concerns for their safety, the police and Crown counsel will try to address those safety concerns through bail and sentencing conditions, where appropriate.

Important Reading

For more information on what BC’s Crown counsel does, read this Government fact sheet: Role of Crown Counsel

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