Duty to take notes: Police officers

Police officers are tasked with protecting our community. They are entrusted with special authority to conduct their duties and their authority hinges on the public’s confidence that they will do so to the best of their ability and within the limits of the law.

For reasons of transparency and independency, the citizens of Ontario have charged an all-civilian enforcement agency, Special Investigation’s unit (SIU), to conduct criminal investigations “into circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault.”

In Wood v Schaeffer, a case dealing with the police officers’ right to counsel during an SIU investigation, the Supreme Court of Canada pressed the importance on police officers’ duties to take notes throughout their investigation. This case has significant importance in Criminal Law when defence lawyers cross-examine police officers on issues of reliability.

The Honourable Justice Moldaver delivered the decision and highlighted the importance of policer officers taking accurate, detailed and comprehensive notes as soon as practicable after an investigation;

” … I have little difficulty concluding that police officers do have a duty to prepare accurate, detailed, and comprehensive notes as soon as practicable after an investigation. Drawing on the remarks of Mr. Martin, such a duty to prepare notes is, at a minimum, implicit in an officer’s duty to assist in the laying of charges and in prosecutions – a duty that is explicitly recognized in s. 42(1)(e) of the Act.

The Court further agrees with the Report of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on Charge Screening, Disclosure, and Resolution Discussions, that the notes taken by police officers are usually the most immediate source of evidence that is relevant in a commission of a crime. Since notes are usually the earliest record created, they may be the most accurate.

For more information on the Special Investigation’s unit, click here.

Full decision – Wood v Schaeffer, 2013 SCC 71 – click here.


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