Charging Someone with a Criminal Offence
The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Script 215 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call the Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
Procedure in Vancouver: other places may differ
The procedure for charging someone with a criminal offence or making a report to the police varies slightly from place to place in BC. This script describes the procedure in Vancouver. If you live elsewhere in BC, contact the Justice of the Peace at your local provincial courthouse or the local police station for the procedure there.
What is the purpose of the criminal justice system?
The main purpose of the criminal justice system is to bring to justice a person who has committed a criminal offence. It is not to compensate people financially for something wrong done to them. If someone owes you money but has not committed a crime, you should consider suing that person in Small Claims Court or in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Where do you start if you want someone to be charged with an offence?
File a police report—phone the local police station’s non-emergency line to see if you can make a report by phone, or whether you have to go to the police station. It normally depends on the crime. In either case, you will file a police report with an officer, and possibly make a statement with your allegations. Make a note of the police officer's name and badge number and, if possible, the police report number. An officer will investigate your case and report to you.
If the officer thinks that the person should be charged, the officer will write a report to a prosecutor (also called Crown counsel) with the suggested charges. Follow up on your report by contacting the officer who took the complaint if you want an update on it.
If the officer thinks the person should NOT be charged, they will tell you so, and they will not send a report to a prosecutor. If this happens and you disagree with the officer’s decision, you can ask to speak to the officer’s supervisor. Also, you can file a complaint with either the Police Complaint Commissioner (discussed in script 221) or, if you are dealing with the RCMP, you can file a complaint with the Commission for Public Complaints (discussed in script 220). You can also charge the person yourself, as explained below.
What is a prosecutor and what do they do?
Prosecutors are lawyers employed by the government to prosecute, or present, criminal cases in court. A prosecutor will review the police report and may charge the person with an offence. You may have to testify as a witness, where you will tell the court what you know, if the case goes to court. If you suffered financial loss, you may be able to get compensation, so you should give this information to the police or prosecutor. If you don’t hear whether the person has been charged, you can contact the police officer who took the report for a follow up.
What if the prosecutor won’t charge the person?
Talk with the prosecutor—if the police send a report to the prosecutor who then decides not to charge the person, you can call the prosecutor to see if they will speak with you. The BC Victims of Crime Act gives victims of crime the right to know the reasons for a decision about charges. And the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights gives victims of crime the right, if they ask, to information about the status and outcome of the investigation into the crime.
Listen carefully to the prosecutor because they are experts in criminal law. If you have new information, the prosecutor may send you back to the police. In that case, what happens next will depend on what the police choose to do. If you disagree with the police’s decision, you can follow the police complaint process described above.
Charge the person yourself—if the police won’t investigate or the prosecutor won’t charge the person and you still disagree with their decisions, you can ask a Justice of the Peace (a JP) to charge the person based on a private information. If the offence is in the Criminal Code, a JP has to accept the charge. Even if the JP accepts the charge, in a typical case, unless there is strong evidence of a criminal offence, the prosecutor will likely end it (or stay the prosecution) because a prosecutor has to meet a higher standard to prove a charge than a JP needs to accept one.
If the prosecutor does not stay the charge, you still must convince a provincial court judge to order the person charged to attend court, and the judge can issue an arrest warrant or a summons to do this. You must show the judge there is some evidence that the person committed each part of the crime (this is called a prima facie case). If you do that, the prosecutor may ask the judge to adjourn or postpone the case (meaning delay it until they get more information) before issuing a warrant or a summons so the police can investigate the matter. After the police investigate, if the prosecutor decides there is strong evidence of a criminal offence, the prosecutor will take over. If the prosecutor decides the case lacks merit and stays it, you can call the Crown counsel office and speak to the prosecutor’s supervisor who can explain the reasons for their decision.
The first step to getting someone charged with a criminal offence is to file a police report. If the police decide to proceed, they will send a report to the prosecutor, who may charge the person with an offence after reading the police report and witness statements.
If the police do not send a report to the prosecutor, you can discuss their refusal to do so with the police and file a complaint if you still disagree. Or, you can try charging the person yourself before a Justice of the Peace.
If the prosecutor decides not to prosecute the person, you can contact the prosecutor. If that doesn't work, you can try charging the person yourself, again before a Justice of the Peace. Lastly, you can ask to speak to the prosecutor’s supervisor who can explain the reasons for their decision.
[updated August 2017]
The above was last edited by John Blois.
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