As Canadian citizens, we must all abide by a federal law called the Criminal Code which defines many different kinds of actions as crimes. Just a few examples include murder, manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm, assault, robbery or theft. If an offence is listed in the Criminal Code, it is considered a crime.
Although the accused certainly may have harmed one or more individuals personally, our justice system considers a crime to be an offence against the state itself, therefore the charge would read: Regina (which is Latin for Queen, our official Head of State) versus the name of the person charged. For example, if someone with the last name Smith was charged with murder, Smith would be the accused and the charge would read Regina v. Smith.
The government hires lawyers to act on behalf of everyone living in our community and society who, in a sense, have all been harmed by the crime. These lawyers are called Crown counsel or prosecutors. The accused has the right to have his or her own lawyer. They are called defence counsel. Each type of lawyer can present evidence at a criminal trial and also make arguments on appeals.
In our system, an accused person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. To be proven guilty, the evidence presented by the Crown must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intended the criminal conduct and actually committed the alleged act.
With most serious criminal charges, the Provincial Court of BC holds a preliminary inquiry before the case can be heard in Supreme Court of BC. The Crown must prove that there is enough evidence to commit the accused to trial in Supreme Court. The accused does not have to present a defense at this time.
In a criminal trial the judge or the jury decides whether or not the accused is guilty. The jury has twelve members and must decide unanimously to convict before the accused can be found guilty. If there is a jury, they make the decision. The judge makes rulings on the law and explains how the law applies to the facts of the case. The judge in jury trials does not make the decision.
Once a case goes to trial, the accused cannot decide to settle with the other side as in civil disputes. Only the Crown counsel has the power to drop the case.
As well, the witnesses to the crime are compelled to come to court to give evidence (or testify) even if they have changed their minds about testifying. For example, in an assault case between husband and wife, the injured party may not want to testify. However, if the charge has been laid, it is up to the Crown to decide whether or not to go ahead.