The Role of Crown Prosecutors in Child Advocacy Centres in Canada

Discussion

There was a great deal of variability in the relations between Crown and CACs in Canada. This variability came in the nature and frequency of meetings and consultations, the presence of training and advice, and beliefs about the degree of appropriate closeness. Yet, despite the differences in CAC models across Canada, and the differences in the interactions between Crown prosecutors and CACs, there were remarkable similarities in the observed benefits and the concerns reported by the Crown interviewed in this study.

It is clear that Crowns currently working with CACs are acutely aware of the unique nature of cases involving child victims and witnesses. These special needs place demands on Crown that some reported feeling under-resourced to handle. The uniqueness of these cases requires a specialized resource-intensive response, one that brings together services in a way that may not typically be required in other types of criminal cases. Thus, Crown recognition and appreciation of specialized professionals working on these cases through the CAC was a prominent theme in interviewee responses. Enhanced training opportunities for all professionals working with the CAC, the ability to develop expertise, and reduced staff turnover were raised by most interviewees as desirable goals.

However, there was also frustration expressed about being misunderstood. The role of the Crown in the Canadian justice system is to serve the court and the public interest. As a result, their independence from the CAC is critical. Yet, this need for independence creates a natural tension when Crown are strong supporters of the CAC concept and of the use of CAC resources as an effective method for seeing these cases through the justice system. To continue to promote strong professional collaborations, many Crown felt that enhanced understanding of their role, including their independence and prosecutorial discretion, was needed.

Some Crown indicated that they believed further education was also needed about disclosure obligations. Crown reported deliberately avoiding situations in which they may be exposed to information that would be subject to disclosure guidelines and case law (e.g., R. v. Stinchcombe, 1991). However, they perceived that their colleagues did not always understand the reason the prosecutor was not in attendance for particular meetings. As with the broader understanding of the Crown role, a fuller understanding of legal disclosure requirements was desired.

Finally, it was also interesting to note that Crown perceptions of the benefits of CACs were consistent with findings in the empirical literature of an improved experience for children (Cross et al., 2007; Faller & Palusci, 2007; Jensen et al., 1996). The consensus between empirically observed benefits and the perceptions of those working directly on these cases contributes to the evidence for the continued use of the CAC model in Canada.