The Final Report on Early Case Consideration of the Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to the Justice System
There is a broad consensus in the police community that the enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has had the greatest effect on police investigative practice in the history of Canadian policing. A series of Supreme Court of Canada decisions increasing Charter safeguards for suspects and accused has had a direct and dramatic impact on police operations, workload and costs. These decisions have steadily increased the number of different steps the police must take from discovery of a crime to presenting the case to Crown counsel for prosecution. To maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of this increased work, it is crucial that police have timely access to competent and practical prosecutorial advice.
The Steering Committee recommends expanded involvement of Crown counsel during the pre-charge stage of police investigations.
- Crown counsel shall assist the work of the police by providing pre-charge legal advice on such issues as complex or special search warrants, charging decisions, Crown brief preparation, etc.
- Crown counsel should also be involved in providing educational opportunities and training to police officers on relevant pre-charge issues, including search and D.N.A. warrants and the essential elements and proof requirements of offences.
It is now generally recognized across Canada that the early involvement of Crown counsel in complex investigations is essential. A number of commentators suggested that expanding the pre-charge involvement of Crown counsel in a broader range of cases would make the system more efficient by removing weak or overburdened cases earlier in the criminal process. New Brunswick, Quebec and British Columbia require a prosecutor to approve charges before they can be laid by a police officer. A number of jurisdictions have provided the police with the ability to access Crown counsel outside of business hours or from a remote location by means of a 1-800 number. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police supports the involvement of Crown counsel during the early stages of the investigative process but stresses the need to respect the different roles of investigators and prosecutors delineated by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Regan. 
The Steering Committee recommends that police and prosecution services in each jurisdiction jointly develop and implement a standard checklist for Crown brief and disclosure packages.
- A standard provincial checklist should be jointly developed and implemented by police and prosecution services to outline the proper contents of a Crown brief and disclosure package.
- Police services should develop training programmes to ensure high quality Crown brief and disclosure packages.
- Police services should implement quality control mechanisms to ensure their officers are fully aware of and comply with requirements relating to Crown brief and disclosure packages.
The format and contents of Crown briefs vary widely across the country and even within jurisdictions. These inconsistencies can lead to confusion and inefficiencies. The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Heads of Prosecutions Committee is in the process of working with the police community to develop a standardized checklist for Crown brief and disclosure packages. This is important work that should be given a high priority. Police services experience high turnover rates and providing new officers with standardized checklists assists them in improving the quality of their work. Moreover, electronic Crown briefs are the way of the future and work done now to standardize content requirements will ease the transition to electronic format. Developing and implementing electronic disclosure systems requires significant initial investment but in the long term they are cheaper, faster and better than current hard copy systems.
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