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Person being arrested by Police.Criminal law is a body of law that prohibits certain conduct and imposes sanctions for unlawful behaviour.  Criminal law classifies and prohibits certain forms of conduct that are considered threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering to the property, health, safety, and moral welfare of people inclusive of one's self.  Criminal law also includes the punishment and rehabilitation of people who violate such laws.  Criminal law differs from civil law, where emphasis is more on dispute resolution and victim compensation, rather than on punishment or rehabilitation.

Most criminal law is established by the Criminal Code, which contains hundreds of sections that prescribe criminality to various forms of conduct.  Additional criminal offences are found in related federal statutes (the Narcotic Control Act, the Controlled Drugs and Stubstances Act, the Food and Drugs Act, and the Youth Criminal Justice Act).

Classification of Criminal Offences

Indictable offences are the most severe type of offences, and as such, involve the most formal procedures.  Only lawyers are permitted to represent offenders who have been charged with an indictable offence.  Examples of indictable offences include: theft over $5,000.00, murder, breaking and entering, and aggravated sexual assault.

Summary offences are the less severe type of offences and provide for a leaner and more efficient process.  Lawyers are permitted to represent offenders who have been charged with a summary offence, whereas paralegals are permitted to provide representation in most summary matters.  Examples of summary offences include: theft under $5,000.00, breach of a probation order, and disturbing the peace.

Hybrid offences are offences where the prosecutor (acting for the Crown) can select whether or not to proceed as an indictable offence or a summary offence.  Depending on how the prosecutor chooses to proceed, a paralegal may be able to represent an offender charged with a hybrid offence.  A lawyer may represent offenders who have been charged with a hybrid offence, regardless of how the prosecutor chooses to proceed.  Examples of hybrid offences include: sexual assault, simple assualt, and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft.

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