Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals across Canada: Summary of Crown Attorney Respondents

Findings from Crown Attorney Respondents

Findings from Crown Attorney Respondents

This section of the report integrates the findings from the survey self-completed questionnaires and interviews with Crown Attorneys.

1. Role of the Victim in the Criminal Justice Process

There is considerable agreement among all respondent groups, including Crown Attorneys, that victims of crime have a legitimate role to play in the criminal justice process.

Crown Attorneys regard the victim primarily as a witness and a source of information. They generally believe that victims are entitled to be consulted to some extent, especially before irrevocable steps are taken. They cautioned that the criminal justice system must deal with the accused in a manner that serves the public interest and protects society, and emphasized that decision-making ultimately must remain with the court and the Crown Attorney, who are more knowledgeable about the law and can be more objective. Concern was expressed that allowing too large a role for victims would erode the principle of innocent until proven guilty and thereby distort the criminal justice process. However, as Table 1 indicates, almost half of Crown Attorneys surveyed think the victim should be consulted at bail decisions, plea negotiations and sentencing.


Bail Decisions

While about half of Crown Attorneys surveyed believe that victims should be consulted in bail determinations, several emphasized in interviews that they should not be involved in the decision to release or detain the accused.

Plea Negotiations

Compared to bail decisions, a slightly smaller proportion of Crown Attorneys support consulting with victims during plea negotiations with 44% of Crown Attorneys surveyed believing that victims should be consulted at this stage. Several Crown Attorneys acknowledged in interviews that consultation helps to ensure that the Crown Attorney considers all of the relevant facts and issues in any negotiations, and a few said that it is appropriate for victims to have input where restitution and conditions are involved. However, even Crown Attorneys who think that victims should be consulted emphasized that the victim's views are only one element in the Crown Attorney's decision. Observing that victims lack objectivity and knowledge of the law, Crown Attorneys said in interviews that prosecutorial discretion must prevail in order to ensure that decisions accord with the interests of society. Fourteen percent of Crown Attorneys surveyed believe that victims should have no role at all in plea negotiations.


There is also considerable support for consulting victims at sentencing. In interviews, Crown Attorneys said that consultation at the sentencing stage should occur primarily by way of the victim impact statement. Several Crown Attorneys supported consulting victims for sentences served in the community. However, Crown Attorneys believe that it is inappropriate for victims to suggest or determine a sentence, since the court is obligated to consider society's interests in sentencing, which may differ from those of the individual victim. From their perspective, introducing a personal or emotional element into sentencing would result in dissimilar sentences for similar crimes based on individual victims' characteristics. Such a practice would threaten the credibility of the criminal justice system.

2. Responsibility of Criminal Justice Professionals to Victims

In both the interviews and self-completed questionnaires, Crown Attorneys were asked to describe their responsibility to victims of crime through an open-ended question (i.e., no check list of possible responses was provided). They identified responsibilities such as explaining the criminal justice system, keeping victims informed of the status of their case, and providing them an opportunity to be heard and considering their views.

Crown Attorney Responsibility to Victims

A substantial proportion of Crown Attorneys surveyed in this research believe that they have a responsibility to keep victims informed of developments as their case proceeds through the criminal justice system (46%); to explain to them the functioning of the criminal justice system (40%); and to listen to their views and concerns and take these into account when making decisions (25%).

As shown in Table 2, 15% of those surveyed observed that the Crown Attorney has a responsibility to act in the public interest. In interviews, Crown Attorneys explained that they, as the representative of the state, must see that cases proceed with respect to the Criminal Code. Crown Attorneys have an obligation to remain objective, to consider the whole facts, and to advance admissible evidence in what are alleged to be crimes. Their duties therefore include correcting the common misperception that the Crown Attorney is counsel for the victim. An important aspect of the Crown Attorney's role is to explain to victims the limits of criminal law and the criminal justice system, to make sure they understand the rules and criteria used in decision-making, and to make sure they have a realistic expectation of how their case might unfold. Although Crown Attorneys said that they always bear the victim's experience and opinions in mind, the victim does not and should not control the prosecution.

Responsibility: Crown Attorneys (N=188)
Inform victims of the status of their case 46%
Explain the criminal justice system 40%
Listen to or consider the victim's views 25%
Act in the public interest 15%
Treat victims with respect 14%
Obtain information from the victim 10%
Prepare victims for testimony 9%
Explain Crown Attorney decisions 8%
Convey the victim's views to the court 6%
Ensure victims are not re-victimized 5%
Other 3%
No response 11%

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; total sums to more than 100%.

Slightly fewer than 30% of Crown Attorneys surveyed believe that they have sufficient opportunity to meet with victims during a typical case; approximately two-thirds said that they do not. In interviews, many Crown Attorneys said that they prioritize their time to ensure that they devote sufficient attention to child victims and victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, murder, and other serious crimes, and meet with victims of other types of offences only if the victim initiates contact.

When asked what else Crown Attorneys should do to further assist victims if time were not an issue, 26% of those surveyed mentioned better pre-trial consultation and preparation; another 25% simply mentioned more consultation in general. In interviews, Crown Attorneys explained that they would like to be able to meet with victims well in advance of the court date, rather than on the day of the trial or hearing, and to extend to all victims the time and attention they devote to victims of violent crimes. Another 17% of Crown Attorneys surveyed said that they would like to be able to keep victims informed at every stage of the criminal justice process. However, 12% believe that they should not do anything further to assist victims.

In interviews, many Crown Attorneys emphasized the indispensable role of victim assistance workers in doing some of this work. Sixty-three percent of Crown Attorneys surveyed reported that victim and witness assistants are available to work with them in their offices.

3. Services for Victims

The following section considers the availability and accessibility of victim services in the sites studied. Respondents were asked about the types of services available in their community, the services offered by their particular victim service organization(s), challenges to accessing victim services, and how to improve accessibility, including how best to inform victims about available services.

Types of Services Available

In order to determine the full range of victim services available in the sites studied, Crown Attorneys were asked to list the types of victim services available in their community. Table 3 below provides these results.

Type of service: Victim Services (N=318) Crown Attorneys (N=188) Police (N=686)
Police-based victim services 82% 64% 82%
Court-based victim services 57% 50% 49%
Specialized victim services for domestic violence 78% 73% 79%
Specialized victim services for sexual assault 69% 65% 73%
Specialized victim services for children 66% 64% 69%

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response, therefore, totals sum to more than 100%.
Only those categories of service named in all of the surveys are included.
Respondents who listed another type of service or those who gave no response are not represented in this table.

4. Information for Victims

Adequacy of Information Provided

Table 4 shows the proportion of Crown Attorneys who believe that victims usually receive adequate information on various aspects of their case and on the criminal justice system as a whole. Crown Attorneys believe that victims generally receive adequate information with respect to the date and location of their court proceedings; victim impact statements; victim services; the ultimate outcome of their case; and the conditions of release. Areas where improvements in information provision may be necessary include the progress of the police investigation, the rights of the accused, and alternative processes.

Percentage of respondents who agree that victims usually receive adequate information on… Victim services (N=318) Crown Attorney (N=188) Police (N=686) Advocacy Groups (N=47)
The progress of the police investigation 42% 32% 83% 19%
Outcomes of bail decisions 40% 64% 69% 23%
Conditions of release 55% 64% 79% 23%
Date and location of court proceedings 81% 70% 78% 60%
Charges laid 70% 59% 90% 49%
Charges dropped 49% 52% 67% 32%
Victim impact statements 71% 78% 74% 53%
Restitution 47% 66% 59% 15%
The ultimate outcome of the case 60% 61% 75% 43%
The criminal justice process 54% 38% 62% 21%
Alternative processes 27% 24% 57% 23%
Rights of accused 43% 28% 63% 32%
Victim services 69% 76% 93% 43%
Other community support services 66% 44% 76% 32%

Note: Respondents who gave no response are not represented in this table.

Responsibility for Information Provision

Table 5 below shows Crown Attorneys' perceptions of criminal justice professionals' responsibility for providing information to victims of crime. Crown Attorneys shared the view of other respondents in saying that police should inform victims about the progress of the police investigation and any charges laid. Similarly, a majority in all categories including Crown Attorneys believes that victim services providers should provide information about victim services and other community support services, while Crown Attorneys should provide information about the ultimate outcome of the case. As with other respondents, Crown Attorneys did not assign full responsibility for the provision of any category of information to a single agency. Instead, they regard information provision as a shared duty.


Obstacles to Information Provision and Possible Improvements

In interviews, Crown Attorneys explained that there are several obstacles to providing information to victims of crime. Insufficient time and limited resources are perhaps the most significant. They noted that the sheer volume of cases in the system makes it impossible for criminal justice professionals to provide all victims of crime with all of the information that they may want or require. Other difficulties in providing information include victim transience or reluctance to be contacted, and the possibility that disclosure of certain information may jeopardize the trial.

[2] Note: Crown Attorneys were asked to describe their responsibility to victims of crime through an open-ended question i.e., no check list of possible responses was provided.