Last week the Attorney General announced the release of a report on the special prosecutors system.
The report was prepared under the watch of Stephen Owen, vice-president of external, legal and community relations for the University of British Columbia. The report calls for regular six-month updates to improve timeliness of charge assessments, more frequent review and renewal of the special prosecutors’ list and more stringency in identifying potential conflicts of interest. The Attorney General requested the report in response to an incident in which a special prosecutor revealed a conflict of interest in a case he had been charged to investigate involving a senior member of government.
Mr. Owen was asked to assess whether the special prosecutor system met the overriding public interests of fairness, accountability and public confidence. He reports that the overall prosecution system works well and that special prosecutors should be limited to a very few, highly sensitive cases. The following are some specific recommended changes to the system:
- To keep cases moving in a timely way, needed resources and time estimates will be identified when special prosecutors are appointed. The assistant deputy attorney general will request regular updates from the special prosecutor and senior investigating police officers.
- The special prosecutors list will be reviewed annually and include appointees from around the province.
- An appointee’s inclusion will be reviewed once every five years by the assistant deputy attorney general, deputy attorney general and Law Society of B.C. president.
- To protect against improper influence or lowering of prosecutorial standards, the use of special prosecutors will not be expanded. Caution will be taken to ensure against conflicts of interest and delays in proceedings.
- Prior to finalizing the appointment of a particular lawyer as a special prosecutor, the assistant deputy attorney general will meet with them to probe possible conflicts of interest (real, perceived or potential).
- When an MLA is investigated, no special prosecutor will be appointed who either personally donated or whose firm has donated to the MLA’s campaign.
More information on the report and its background is available from the Attorney General’s news release.