The Provincial Court of BC is serous abut its commitment to accountability, openness and transparency. Issuing semi-annual Time to Trial Reports is one way it delivers on that commitment. Every six months the Court informs the Attorney General and the public about when it is typically able to offer dates for trials and conferences in Provincial Court locations around the province.
Why do we issue these reports? What do they tell you? What does the latest report show?
Why do we issue Time to Trial Reports?
In September 2010, the Court released a report on its need for more judges to provide timely trials: “Justice Delayed: A Report of the Provincial Court of British Columbia Concerning Judicial Resources”. One of the report’s recommendations was that regular updates be issued to the provincial Attorney General and the public concerning the wait times for trials in each area of the Court’s jurisdiction. Since 2011, the Court has published such a report twice a year.
These reports enable the Court to measure its own performance against standards it adopted in 2005, and to track whether various events in the life of a case (trials, conferences etc.) can be scheduled in a timely manner.
Issuing Time to Trial reports is one of the ways we demonstrate our accountability to the public. But the data collected for the Reports is also analyzed and used by the Court to guide its planning and promote or develop its solution-oriented innovation. In addition, the Chief Judge uses this data when working with other justice system actors in a given location or subject area, in order to provide a general sense of ‘how things are going’ in particular court locations or subject areas.
This data also helps the Court deploy available resources effectively. For example, when backlogs developed in child protection and criminal matters in certain court locations, there was a joint effort by the provincial Ministry of Justice and the Court in 2013/14 to develop a backlog reduction initiative. This resulted in the early appointment of a replacement judge, creating 170 days of additional judicial time that was assigned to address those backlogs
What does a Time to Trial Report tell you?
‘Time to trial’ is a measure of the time between the date when a case is ready for a conference or trial and the date that event can be routinely scheduled onto a future court list in a particular location. It involves cases scheduled in the usual way - it does not include early dates that may be reserved for urgent matters or available because another case is cancelled.
Time to trial does not reflect when cases are actually set, because that will be affected by lawyers’ and witnesses’ availability. Instead, it is an estimate of when court time would be available to schedule an event of a particular type and length.
This estimate is then compared against the Court’s standard for that event.
When reporting regional or provincial results the data is “weighted” to reflect the volume of cases in each court location, so a court with a small caseload doesn’t disproportionately affect provincial statistics. Using each location’s fiscal year caseload, time to trial data is weighted at both the regional and provincial levels. So, for example, if a location has 50% of its region’s caseload and 11% of the provincial caseload in a given type of case, their results in that division are multiplied by 0.5 during the calculation of the regional weighted time to trial, and by 0.11 when calculating provincial weighted time to trial.
Time to trial data is currently collected from 69 Provincial Court locations in BC. The most recent Time to Trial Report includes weighted provincial time to trial for:
matters of different lengths, as of March 31, 2017. It also reports the locations with the longest time to trial in each area of the Court’s jurisdiction, and Time to Trial results by location.
What does the latest report show?
The latest report shows that provincial weighted times to trial have generally held steady or increased since the Provincial Court adopted new measurement categories in June 2016. However, time to trial decreased slightly for 2-4 day small claims trials, and results for the longest small claims trials (5+ days) remain within standard. Family case conferences are also within standard. Other trial categories currently exceed the Office of the Chief Judge (OCJ) Standard.
What the report doesn’t tell you
There has been news coverage about R. v. Jordan, a 2016 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that set what the Court called a “presumptive ceiling” of 18 months for completion of Provincial Court criminal trials. The Court’s Time to Trial reports do not, and are not intended to, measure the factors relevant to Jordan. The Jordan decision considers the period between the commencement of a case by swearing an information and the end of the trial. Jordan considers the entire life of a criminal case, while Time to Trial is a snapshot of the middle portion - an estimate of when a trial might begin, once the parties are ready to set a date.
Time to Trial reports cannot predict when a trial will finish, for several reasons. First, the reports provide an estimate of when a particular trial might be scheduled to start, but there is no guarantee that it will actually start on that date - trials are adjourned for many reasons. In addition, once a trial is begun, many factors can lengthen it, necessitating continuation at a future time. The timing of a continuation will depend on the availability of lawyers, witnesses and the judge, among other unpredictable factors.
Nor do Time to Trial reports tell how many Provincial Court cases are stayed due to unreasonable delay. The Court has access to the number of cases stayed in a given time period, but not to the reason for the stay.
Finally, Time to Trial reports, taken alone, don’t permit evaluation of the Court’s 2014/15 trial scheduling reforms. The Court has committed to undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of those reforms, and time to commencement of trials will be just one of the factors examined.
The value of Time to Trial Reports
By compiling the data included in Time to Trial Reports, the Court keeps itself and the public focused on the extent to which it is able to meet its performance standards. Those standards represent objective goals and performance targets the Court strives to meet. Time to Trial Reports are one indicator of how well the Court is able to provide access to justice with the judicial resources it has available.