Today, in my continuing saga of addressing Police Myths, I will be answering the question "does a police officer have to show up for court?" Although it is well known that officers sometimes do not show up for traffic court, Simon Says: Yes, they do have to attend court!
Attending all levels of court to give evidence in both criminal and provincial offence matters is one of the duties of a police officer. Section 42 (1) (e) of the Police Service Act lists one of an officer’s duties as "laying charges and participating in prosecutions" (that means showing up for court). Usually, this duty is also spelled out explicitly in the police service’s policies and procedures. The Court Attendance policy of the service I used to work for stated, "Members shall attend court as specified in the procedure." In fact, later in the policy, under the duties of the Officer in Charge, it states that they are to take disciplinary action against an officer who did not attend court as required.
So why do officers occasionally not show up for traffic court? Most people have heard of someone who went to court to fight a traffic ticket, was told the officer wasn’t there, and had the ticket withdrawn.
The reason for this is usually that the officer got tied up dealing with something on the road and was not able to finish it in time to get to court. Officers start their shifts early in the morning (usually 7:00 am), which gives them plenty of time to get involved in something by the time court is scheduled to start (usually 9:30 or 10:00 am). Due to the nature of situations an officer deals with on the road, they can’t always just stop what they’re doing to go to court.
The other most common reason is that the officer is on holidays or sick.
In either case, without the officer to give evidence, the crown prosecutor likely has no reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction, which leaves them with two choices. They can either bring a motion to adjourn the matter to a latter date or withdraw the charges. Which option they choose depends on a number of factor, primarily the seriousness of the offence. In criminal court, the crown will always bring a motion to adjourn, and it will probably be granted by the Judge. In provincial offences court it is far more likely that the crown will withdraw, especially if there are civilian witnesses who would be inconvenienced by having to return on another date.
The important thing to remember about this myth is that it is not up to the officer’s discretion whether they will attend court. Regardless of what they have said when issuing a ticket or what impression they left you with, they must attend court unless they are physically unable to do so.