In order to provide people around the province with access to justice Provincial Court judges hold court in more than 80 locations in British Columbia. In smaller communities the number of cases doesn’t require a full time court, so judges travel there regularly. Often a judge and court team combine trips to several communities in order to cover a large geographic area and reduce travel costs. These community court sittings are called “circuit courts”.
Judges are generally assigned to a circuit court for periods of four to five years. This enables them to learn about the communities’ needs, to develop trusting relationships with community groups and service providers, and to provide consistency in judging. Judges find circuit court work very rewarding – they value the opportunity to make a difference in remote communities with limited resources, and to get to know community members - often First Nations members – who meet daunting challenges in order to help others.
However, circuit court judging is not for the faint-hearted. It demands an adventuresome spirit and varied life skills. The Chief Judge recently sought volunteers for the Court’s Northern Circuit and outlined the commitment and expectations involved in that assignment:
- The Court travels to Atlin, Good Hope Lake and Lower Post.
- There are usually four circuits each year – February, May, September and November. The circuits take about five working days. Special or extra sittings may be required from time to time.
- Travel is a big part of the circuit. Expect to drive about 1600 – 1800 kilometers in a week.
- During the November and February circuits, roads are ice packed and temperatures can drop to minus forty degrees. Whiteouts, road closures and other extreme conditions are common. During the May circuit, roads and communities are subject to flooding. Roads can be closed. There is an emergency kit for the judge’s vehicle.
- Court days vary in length. Lists are mostly criminal matters, but there are some Youth and Family matters. Small Claims matters are rare.
- Most criminal matters involve substance abuse and/or violence.
- In Atlin, there is a courtroom. In Good Hope Lake, court is usually held in the community hall, but on occasion in the Band office. In Lower Post, the court is held in the Band Administration Building.
- There are no offices for the judge. However, in Atlin, the judge may use an office belonging to a community development society.
- There is internet access at the hotels in Atlin and Watson Lake. There is no cell phone service outside of Whitehorse (unless you use Nortel, then there is cell phone service in Watson Lake).
- In the months when the court does not sit in the communities, the judge conducts court by telephone or video once a month.
- For Atlin, the court clerk comes from Whitehorse. Otherwise, the court clerk, probation officer and sheriffs are from Fort St. John.
- Currently Crown counsel is from Fort Nelson. Duty counsel is from Kamloops.
- There are usually meetings with service providers, justice workers, etc. in Atlin and in Watson Lake on each circuit.
- Kitchen facilities are available in the hotels in Atlin and Watson Lake.
- There are a limited number of restaurants in all of the locations, so you will have to prepare many of your own meals and pack lunches.
- The judge mentors UBC law students participating in the Court’s Intern program. They usually accompany the judge on the winter circuits.
- Expect to make a commitment to the circuit for four to five years.
- Although this is an opportunity to see northern BC, it certainly is not a vacation.
Bella Bella Circuit Court