The Criminal Justice Overview: Chapter 1
What is the Criminal Justice System?
The criminal justice system is generally considered to contain all of the agencies,
organizations, and personnel involved in the prevention of and response to crime and
dealing with persons charged with criminal offences, and persons convicted of crimes.
Most who work in the justice systems are government employees.
Only a fraction of criminal cases committed come to attention of the police, even less is
heard in courts.
The Role and Responsibilities of Governments in Criminal Justice
The basic division is that the federal government decides which behaviours
constitute criminal offences, while the provincial/ territorial governments are
responsible for law enforcement and for administering the justice system, this
is written in the Constitution Act.
Parliament in Ottawa has the absolute power to create, amend, and repeal criminal law
for the entire country. It also sets the procedures for prosecuting persons charged with
criminal offences and establishes the punishments that will be imposed for all federal
Criminal code: federal legislation that sets out criminal laws, procedures for
prosecuting federal offences, and sentences and procedures for administration of justice.
Other Federal Statutes:
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: a component of the Constitution Act that
guarantees basic rights and freedoms; primary law of the land; equality rights for
citizens and non-citizens.
The Portfolio of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness: includes key federal
agencies responsible for public safety and security
Federal Police: The RCMP operates as a federal police force in Canada.
Federal Prosecutors, Courts and Judges: is staffed by lawyer agents and full time
prosecutors, and the Minister of Justice appoints the judges.
Federal Corrections: oversees federal correctional institutes and responsibility extends
with to the post-release supervision of federal offenders.
Provincial/ Territorial Offences, Provincial Police, Provincial Prosecutors, Courts and
Judges, Provincial/ Territorial Corrections.
The Criminal Justice Process: provides insight into the actual dynamics of criminal
justice, how decisions are made by just personnel and challenges they face, the role of
victims, and initiatives that are taken to perfect the just system.
The Canadian criminal justice system is an adversarial system: a justice system in which
advocates for each part present their cases before a neutral judge or a jury. Ex) defence
lawyer and prosecutor
Presumption of innocence: a defendant is deemed innocent of the charge(s)
until either convicted or acquitted.
The Crown bears the burden of proof: It is the task of the Crown to prove guilt,
not the responsibility of the accused to prove his or her innocence. The Criminal Justice Overview: Chapter 1
Doli incapax (Latin for “too young for evil”): a child under 12 cannot be held
criminally responsible or prosecuted for criminal acts.
Insanity: no is criminally responsible and liable to punishment if incapable of
knowing the act was wrong owing to a mental disorder.
Attempts are crimes: those who attempt crimes commit an offence and are
generally subject to half the penalty that the completed act would draw.
The basic purpose of the adversarial system is that the truth will emerge from materials
presented and the issue of whether to place the defendant on the stand is a crucial
concern because they might not tell their story in the best light and may have difficulty
answering questions when being cross-examined.
The process encourages the parties to present a distorted version of events. There are
also concerns with the quality of legal representation for many defendants and ability of
the criminal justice system to solve rather than merely reacting to them.
There is discretion put on the criminal justice personnel in order to carry out
tasks within the framework of written laws and policies.
Disparity: when the one criminal justice personnel could have dealt with a
situation one-way compared to another, difference of opinion.
The Foundation of the Legal System
The Canadian legal system is one of the common law. Based on notion of precedent:
“whenever a judge makes a decision that is said to be legally enforced, this decision
becomes a precedent: a rule that will guide judges in making subsequent decisions in
The principle whereby the higher courts set precedents that lower courts must
follow is known as stare decisis (Latin for “to stand by what is decided”)
Rule of law: the foundation of the Canadian Legal System
All citizens are supposed to obey the law, to expect punishment if they break
the law, and to look only to the legal system to respond to transgressions
committed against them.
The legal system, in turn, must be fair and impartial in its responses.
Only elected officials can decide what is against the law.
A law must be written clearly so that everyone—or atleast lawyers—can
understand which action or activity it is being referred to.
A law must apply equally to everyone—for example, to men and women, and to
rich and poor.
To give the law “teeth,” a penalty must be defined for breaking the law.
Means all citizens are subject to law and entitles to its protections.
There are two general categories of law:
Public law deals with those matters that affect society as a whole in its
interactions with governments.
o Types of public law: criminal law, constitutional law, administrative law,
and taxation law.
Criminal law: that body of law which deals with conduct
considered so harmful to society as a whole that it is prohibited by
statue and prosecuted and punished by the government. The Criminal Justice Overview: Chapter 1
Private law: regulates relationships between individuals other than the state
and is used to resolve disputes between private citizens.
In Canadian society, criminal law:
Acts as a mechanism of social control
Defines the parameters of acceptable behaviour
Reduces the risk of personal retaliation (people taking law into their own hands,
Assists in general and specific deterrence
Serves as a means of punishment
Protects group interests; and