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Criminal Justice Information and Support

Goals, Basic Principles and Sources of Criminal Law

The criminal justice system is a foundation of Canadian society. It plays an important part in maintaining a just, peaceful and safe society. It does this by maintaining public safety, enforcing laws and protecting people’s rights. Some key goals of the criminal justice system include:

  • preventing crime;
  • protecting the public;
  • supporting victims of crime, their families and witnesses;  
  • holding people responsible for crimes they have committed; and
  • helping offenders to return to the community and become law abiding members of the community.

Basic Principles

The criminal justice system is built on a few important principles. B.C. shares these basic principles with all common law criminal justice systems around the world. 

Presumption of Innocence - Every criminal case begins with the presumption that the accused person is innocent. It is up to Crown counsel, representing the community, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.

Due Process – Due process is related to the presumption of innocence. It involves a thorough examination of the facts of each case - and recognition of the importance of protecting the legal rights of those charged with criminal offences.

Independent Judiciary – Anyone accused of a crime has the right to have their case decided by fair and impartial judges, without interference of any kind, from any source. This is the concept of judicial independence. While judicial decisions may not result in everyone being happy, the justice system is founded on public confidence that decisions - whether popular or not - are made after a full and fair hearing and without outside influence.

Openness and Accessibility of Court - Only through an open and public process can the public have confidence in the justice system and be satisfied that parties are treated fairly.

Equality Before the Law - All people in Canada are equal under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sources of Criminal Law

Criminal law and procedures in Canada are based mainly on: 

The Criminal Code and Other Sources of Federal Criminal Law

The Criminal Code is the main source of criminal law and procedure in Canada.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act is the primary source of law and procedure for youth offenders.

Some other important Canadian criminal laws include the Canada Evidence Act, Contraventions Act, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Firearms Act and Food and Drugs Act.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Canadian Constitution.  The Charter guarantees certain fundamental rights. These include political rights, such as free speech, and legal rights. Legal rights in the charter include:

Section 7

The right to life, liberty, and security of the person.

Section 8

The right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.

Section 9

The right not to be arbitrarily arrested.

Section 10

The right to know why you’re arrested, to get a lawyer immediately and to be told that you have that right.

Section 11

Rights if you’re charged with an offence, including:

  • the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty;
  • the right not to be a witness against yourself;
  • the right to a trial within a reasonable time;
  • the right to be informed without unreasonable delay of the specific offence you are charged with;
  • the right to reasonable bail unless there is just cause (a good reason) to deny it; and
  • the right to trial by jury if an offence can be punished with imprisonment for five years or more.

Section 12

The right not to be subject to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

Section 13

Protection against the use of your own testimony to prosecute you (the right against self incrimination).

Section 14

The right to an interpreter in a court proceeding.

More Information

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