Canada: Supreme Court Of Canada Places Crown Prosecutors Above The Law Again?

Copyright 2009, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP

Originally published in Blakes Bulletin on Litigation, November 2009

On November 6, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Miazga v. Kvello Estate. In its decision, the unanimous Court departs from the law on the tort of malicious prosecution which it laid down 20 years ago in the case of Nurse Susan Nelles. In Nelles, the Court had held that equality under the law demands that Crown prosecutors cannot be immune from malicious prosecution lawsuits and that the same test must apply to Crown prosecutors as applies to private prosecutors. In Miazga, the Court has now carved out a special test for suing Crown prosecutors for malicious prosecution, virtually reinstating the immunity it rejected in Nelles.

This was a significant opportunity for our highest court to confirm and clarify the responsibility of government agents in the criminal justice system, recognizing the devastating impact that the transgression of public duties can have on wrongfully targeted individuals. The Court recently emphasised the importance of such principles in its unprecedented decision to allow suits against police officers for negligent investigation. Unfortunately, the Miazga decision appears to backtrack on the ability to hold public officials accountable.


The malicious prosecution action was brought by two sets of foster families in Saskatchewan after sexual assault charges were stayed against them. The charges were numerous and were founded almost entirely on wildly bizarre and disturbing allegations by three foster children, including allegations of satanic rituals and human sacrifice. The criminal case had been labelled by the media as the "Scandal of the Century". The financial, emotional and reputational harm caused to the plaintiffs by the criminal prosecution was widely acknowledged. One of them committed suicide. All charges against the plaintiffs were eventually dropped, as the children's allegations were ultimately found to be almost entirely incredible. The children also ultimately recanted their allegations.

At the malicious prosecution trial, the plaintiffs succeeded against one of the two Crown prosecutors who prosecuted the case (Matthew Miazga), among others. Mr. Miazga appealed to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and lost. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

SCC Cloaks Crown Prosecutors with Effective Immunity

The Court granted Mr. Miazga's appeal by apparently backtracking on the original Nelles test in the following main ways:

1) removing the requirement that the Crown prosecutor form an honest professional belief that guilt could be proven based on the evidence;

2) requiring that the plaintiff identify the particular personal animus or corrupt motive that fuelled the Crown prosecutor's actions; and

3) precluding an inference of malice based on the absence of reasonable and probable cause.

The overall test for the tort of malicious prosecution has four parts. The plaintiff must establish that the prosecution was:

1) initiated by the defendant prosecutor;

2) terminated in favour of the plaintiff;

3) undertaken without reasonable and probable cause; and

4) motivated by malice or a primary purpose other than that of carrying the law into effect.

The Court has now practically ensured that parts 3 and 4 cannot be met in relation to Crown prosecutors. Under part 3, the Court ruled that as long as a reasonable person could believe that the accused could have been found guilty, there is objective reasonable and probable cause and the suit against the Crown prosecutor must fail, even if this Crown prosecutor did not believe the person was probably guilty. This has the perverse effect that, in such circumstances, a Crown prosecutor could, in fact, be motivated by racial, political or other forms of bias, but the wrongfully prosecuted person would still have no recourse.

As for establishing malice under part 4, the Court appears to have resiled from the broad definition of malice that it adopted in Nelles. It has now ruled that a plaintiff must prove that "the prosecutor willfully perverted or abused the office of the Attorney General or the process of criminal justice" and that this cannot be inferred from a finding of absence of professional belief in reasonable and probable cause alone. According to the Court, this (heightened) standard is necessary since "a conclusion that a prosecutor lacked a subjective belief in sufficient cause but proceeded anyways is equally consistent with non-actionable conduct as with an improper purpose." This statement is remarkable, particularly when viewed against the Court's repeated rulings that Crown prosecutors are "ministers of justice" whose role is to assess the evidence and prosecute only in the interest of justice and that their role is not to seek a conviction.

Now that the lower court decisions in Miazga have been overturned, there have been only two cases in Canada in more than 20 years in which plaintiffs have successfully sued Crown prosecutors for malicious prosecution. As long as the heightened Miazga test applies, regrettably, these may be the last two successful claims in Canadian legal history. Crown prosecutors appear to have been effectively returned to their special seats above the law.

Blakes was selected to represent the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as an intervener in this important case.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
26 Oct 2018, Other, Vancouver, Canada

Cybersecurity, including data privacy and security obligations, has become a critical chapter in every company’s risk management playbook.

30 Oct 2018, Other, Toronto, Canada

Please join us for discussions on recent updates and legal developments in pension and employee benefits as well as employment law issues.

12 Nov 2018, Other, Toronto, Canada

Stories aren’t falsehoods. Stories are the root of all effective human communications: they motivate, animate and clarify. If you aren’t telling stories, you probably aren’t getting your point across.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions