The Provincial Court of British Columbia has existed in one form or another since the early fur trading days that attracted the province's first European settlers. In the early 1800s, English law and its hierarchical judicial system was imported into the province's two founding colonies. In 1867, the British North America Act created the new nation of Canada. The Act gave power to the provinces to create their own courts. At this time, the precursor to the Provincial Court existed in the form of magistrate courts, with a very limited jurisdiction. Magistrates were often part-time and rarely had any formal training in the law. They were not well paid and were treated as employees of the government.
In 1910, the government established the Juvenile Court. As the province grew in size and stature, the increasing complexity of changing laws in British Columbia placed more demands on Magistrates. The need became apparent for the establishment of a professional magistrate's association, with a prescribed set of educational and professional requirements. In 1943, a survey of the provincial magistrate system ultimately led to the first Magistrates Conference in 1947.
In 1955, changes to the Criminal Code made criminal matters more demanding for judicial officers who were not legally trained. Changing provincial legislation also required Magistrates to travel from one jurisdiction to another, presiding over multiple court districts. Family and civil legislation had also grown more complex. In all aspects of its jurisdiction, the Court was evolving and growing, requiring increased levels of legal training, judicial education and professional qualifications.
The Provincial Court of British Columbia officially came into existence in 1969. It had its own Judicial Council, and was led by a Chief Judge, whose duty was to oversee the administration of the provincial judiciary and the criminal, family, and small claims matters that were under the jurisdiction of the new Court. No longer was the Court tied to the government and the Department of the Attorney General; from this point on, the Provincial Court would function independently.
During the next five years, the Provincial Court experienced immense change. The Judicial Council gained greater authority and determined that legal training be a prerequisite for judicial appointments. C. White, appointed in 1970, was the province's first Chief Judge. In 1972, L. Brahan became the first full-time Chief Judge, presiding over 210 Judges, of which only 75 had legal training. By the end of 1975, following the introduction of a new Provincial Court Act, all lay Judges had been retired. The first province-wide training program for Justices of the Peace came in 1974.
The Provincial Court's civil jurisdiction steadily increased over the years. It was increased from $500 to $1000 in 1973, raised again in 1979 to $2000, and later to $3000. In 1991, the Small Claims Act and Rules came into force and introduced a simplified, plain-language process for litigants without a lawyer. A noteworthy feature was the provision for mandatory settlement conferences, which built elements of mediation into the Court's civil process for the first time. The Act also increased the Court's monetary jurisdiction in small claims matters to $10,000. British Columbia's progressive small claims program won the 1993 Justice Achievement Award of the National Association for Court Management.
In 1995 the absolute jurisdiction of a Provincial Court Judge for property offences under the Criminal Code increased from $1,000 to $5,000 in 1995, and in the following year, new child protection legislation, the Child, Family and Community Service Act, became law. Also during that year, the rules relating to child protection matters were amended to include case conferences as an essential part of the process.
In 1997, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was enacted and created a new regime for drug offences before the Court. The next year the Court received new family rules designed to simplify and clarify the procedure for family relations and maintenance enforcement matters. As well, various Criminal Code amendments were introduced. These changes, along with increasingly complex jurisprudence relating to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, significantly altered the nature of cases before the Provincial Court. Volumes increased, cases became longer, and substantial efforts were required to enhance judicial education to meet these demands.
In 1998, the increasing volume of cases, combined with insufficient resources, prompted then Chief Judge Metzger to issue a report entitled, "Delay and Backlog in the Provincial Court of British Columbia." The report made recommendations for managing the progress of criminal cases through the court more efficiently. In 1999 in response to the report, the number of Provincial Court Judges was increased and the Criminal Caseflow Management Rules were enacted.