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 Lawyer Referral 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 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. So you should not charge someone with assault, for example, if you just want him to pay you for your broken glasses. Instead, you should consider suing him civilly in small claims court.
Where do you start if you want to charge someone?
Go to the police station, speak to an officer on duty, and file a police report or make a statement with your allegations. Make a note of the police officer's name and number and, if possible, the police report number for future reference. The police officer will investigate your case and report to you. If the officer thinks that the person should be charged, they will write a report to the prosecutor (also called “Crown Counsel”) with the suggested charges. However, if the officer thinks the person should not be charged, they will tell you so. Follow up your report by contacting the officer who took the complaint if you have not heard anything after a week or so.
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 (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 should contact the police officer who took the report.
What if the police won’t charge the person?
In this case, you can talk directly to the prosecutor, who will interview you. If you convince the prosecutor there is a good case, the prosecutor may ask the police officer to re-investigate the case and possibly charge the person, depending on the result of the new investigation.
What if the prosecutor won’t charge the person?
If the prosecutor decides not to charge the person, you have two other options, but they are very difficult. Listen carefully to the prosecutor because they have experience and expertise in criminal law. If you disagree with the prosecutor, you can ask a justice of the peace (a JP) to charge the person. It's possible, but very unlikely, that a JP will charge a person if a prosecutor has already refused. If the JP refuses to charge the person, or the prosecutor refuses to make the case in court, your only option is to go directly to the BC Attorney General for help. But the Attorney General will not normally get involved, except in the most unusual circumstances.
The first step in charging someone with a criminal offence is to file a police report. After reading the police report and witness statements, the prosecutor may charge the person with an offence. If not, you may try to meet with the prosecutor to charge the person. If that doesn't work, you can try charging the person yourself, before a justice of the peace. Finally, if all else fails, you can appeal to the Attorney General.
[updated November 2012]
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