Friday, June 6, 2014

Prosecutorial discretion

R. v. Anderson, 2014 SCC 41:

[37]                          This Court has repeatedly affirmed that prosecutorial discretion is a necessary part of a properly functioning criminal justice system:  Beare, , at p. 410; R. v. T. (V.), [1992] 1 S.C.R. 749, at pp. 758-62; R. v. Cook, [1997] 1 S.C.R. 1113, at para. 19. In Miazga v. Kvello Estate, 2009 SCC 51, [2009] 3 S.C.R. 339, at para. 47, the fundamental importance of prosecutorial discretion was said to lie, "not in protecting the interests of individual Crown attorneys, but in advancing the public interest by enabling prosecutors to make discretionary decisions in fulfilment of their professional obligations without fear of judicial or political interference, thus fulfilling their quasi-judicial role as 'ministers of justice'". More recently, inSriskandarajah v. United States of America, 2012 SCC 70, [2012] 3 S.C.R. 609, at para. 27, this Court observed that "[n]ot only does prosecutorial discretion accord with the principles of fundamental justice — it constitutes an indispensable device for the effective enforcement of the criminal law".

[38]                          Unfortunately, subsequent to this Court's decision inKrieger v. Law Society of Alberta, 2002 SCC 65, [2002] 3 S.C.R. 372, confusion has arisen as to what is meant by "prosecutorial discretion" and the law has become cloudy. The present appeal provides an opportunity for clarification.

[39]                          In Krieger, this Court provided the following description of prosecutorial discretion:

         "Prosecutorial discretion" is a term of art. It does not simply refer to any discretionary decision made by a Crown prosecutor.  Prosecutorial discretion refers to the use of those powers that constitute the core of the Attorney General's office and which are protected from the influence of improper political and other vitiating factors by the principle of independence. [para. 43]

[40]                          The Court went on to provide the following examples of prosecutorial discretion: whether to bring the prosecution of a charge laid by police; whether to enter a stay of proceedings in either a private or public prosecution; whether to accept a guilty plea to a lesser charge; whether to withdraw from criminal proceedings altogether; and whether to take control of a private prosecution (para. 46). The Court continued:

         Significantly, what is common to the various elements of prosecutorial discretion is that they involve the ultimate decisions as to whether a prosecution should be brought, continued or ceased, and what the prosecution ought to be for.Put differently, prosecutorial discretion refers to decisions regarding the nature and extent of the prosecution and the Attorney General's participation in it. Decisions that do not go to the nature and extent of the prosecution, i.e., the decisions that govern a Crown prosecutor's tactics or conduct before the court, do not fall within the scope of prosecutorial discretion. Rather, such decisions are governed by the inherent jurisdiction of the court to control its own processes once the Attorney General has elected to enter into that forum. [Emphasis added; emphasis in original deleted; para. 47.]

[41]                          Since Krieger, courts have struggled with the distinction between prosecutorial discretion, and tactics and conduct. The use of the word "core" in Krieger has led to a narrow definition of prosecutorial discretion, notwithstanding the expansive language used in Krieger to define the term, namely: ". . . decisions regarding the nature and extent of the prosecution and the Attorney General's participation in it" (para. 47). Difficulty in defining the term has also led to confusion regarding the standard of review by which particular Crown decisions are to be assessed.

[42]                          The current appeal presents a good illustration of both problems. As noted earlier, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal split on the issue of how to characterize the Crown's decision to tender the Notice. Welsh J.A. held that it was a matter of "core" prosecutorial discretion, whereas Green C.J.N.L. and Rowe J.A. (following R. v. Gill, 2012 ONCA 607, 112 O.R. (3d) 423, at paras. 54-56), considered it to be a tactical decision and thus "outside [the] core" (para. 49).

[43]                          The court also diverged on the applicable standard of review. Welsh J.A. held that the distinction between core decisions and decisions falling outside the core was of no consequence as both types of decisions were reviewable on the same standard — the standard articulated in Gill, in which the Ontario Court of Appeal held that the decision to tender the Notice was reviewable if it (1) undermined the integrity of the administration of justice; (2) operated in a manner that rendered the sentencing proceedings fundamentally unfair; (3) was arbitrary; or (4) resulted in a limit on the accused's liberty that was grossly disproportionate to the state interest in pursuing a particular course of action (Gill, at para. 59). Green C.J.N.L. and Rowe J.A. disagreed. In their view, tactical decisions (decisions "outside the core") were reviewable according to the Gill standard, whereas "core" prosecutorial discretion was reviewable solely for abuse of process. The diverging views present in this case, and in many others, demonstrate the unsatisfactory state of the law.

[44]                          In an effort to clarify, I think we should start by recognizing that the term "prosecutorial discretion" is an expansive term that covers all "decisions regarding the nature and extent of the prosecution and the Attorney General's participation in it" (Krieger, at para. 47). As this Court has repeatedly noted, "[p]rosecutorial discretion refers to the discretion exercised by the Attorney-General in matters within his authority in relation to the prosecution of criminal offences" (Krieger, at para. 44, citingPower, at p. 622, quoting D. Vanek, "Prosecutorial Discretion" (1988), 30 Crim. L.Q. 219, at p. 219 (emphasis added)). While it is likely impossible to create an exhaustive list of the decisions that fall within the nature and extent of a prosecution, further examples to those in Krieger include: the decision to repudiate a plea agreement (as in R. v. Nixon, 2011 SCC 34, [2011] 2 S.C.R. 566); the decision to pursue a dangerous offender application; the decision to prefer a direct indictment; the decision to charge multiple offences; the decision to negotiate a plea; the decision to proceed summarily or by indictment; and the decision to initiate an appeal. All pertain to the nature and extent of the prosecution. As can be seen, many stem from the provisions of the Code itself, including the decision in this case to tender the Notice.

[45]                          In sum, prosecutorial discretion applies to a wide range of prosecutorial decision making. That said, care must be taken to distinguish matters of prosecutorial discretion from constitutional obligations. The distinction between prosecutorial discretion and the constitutional obligations of the Crown was made in Krieger, where the prosecutor's duty to disclose relevant evidence to the accused was at issue:

         In Stinchcombesupra, the Court held that the Crown has an obligation to disclose all relevant information to the defence.  While the Crown Attorney retains the discretion not to disclose irrelevant information, disclosure of relevant evidence is not, therefore, a matter of prosecutorial discretion but, rather, is a prosecutorial duty. [Emphasis added; para. 54.]

Manifestly, the Crown possesses no discretion to breach theCharter rights of an accused. In other words, prosecutorial discretion provides no shield to a Crown prosecutor who has failed to fulfill his or her constitutional obligations such as the duty to provide proper disclosure to the defence.

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