The English Barrister robes remain a part of our Canadian tradition in our Superior Courts including our Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench. Depending on how an accused person elects to proceed, the Court of Queen’s Bench has jurisdiction over indictable criminal trials by a Judge sitting alone, or by Judge and Jury after preliminary inquiry.
We also wear our white tabs and gowns at the Alberta Court of Appeal, and before the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. In our Provincial Courts we wear a business suit, and most criminal cases are finalized at this initial rung of our criminal justice system. We no longer wear the white woollen wigs that can be hot and itchy.
The Barrister gowns have remained the same over the many centuries of English criminal justice that extended throughout the world by an expanding empire establishing a number of colonies, and eventually a Common Wealth of independent nations that includes England, Canada, New Zealand, India, Australia, and many other countries.
Canada became a country in 1867 through the British North American Act. We constitutionally enshrined individual and democratic rights by way of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. And yet, the Queen of England remains our symbolic and lawful monarch in Canada as represented by the Governor General who is appointed for a limited term by our Prime Minister.
All cases before our criminal courts are brought in the name of the Queen or King, depending on who is on the throne in England. As a consequence, any person accused of a crime in Canada is up against a far reaching tradition, and a long history of statutory and common law offences that are enforced by local City Police, RCMP, Crown Prosecutors, and Judges appointed by the Provincial and Federal Governments. A typical year in the Province of Alberta will include some two hundred thousand criminal charges being laid in a wide variety of circumstances.
In theory, this rather immense criminal justice system is how the Crown and our Canadian Government maintains the public peace, and enforces the moral standards of the day as to what behaviour constitutes a criminal offence deserving of punishment, and a criminal record that will last indefinitely if not pardoned or dealt with at sentencing by way of a successful discharge application.
Plea negotiations and trials can result in an acquittal, a stay of proceedings, withdrawal of charges, suspended sentence, probation, restitution and compensation orders, counselling requirements, fines, a conditional or absolute discharge, referral to an alternative measures program, mental health diversion, conditional sentence order, time served, intermittent jail, and longer terms of incarceration.
The maximum sentence under our Criminal Code is life imprisonment, which in Canada is twenty five years without parole.