Over 95% of all criminal cases in the province are heard in Provincial Court. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, Provincial Court judges can deal with all criminal matters except adults charged with murder and a few obscure offences such as treason and "alarming her majesty." In criminal cases Provincial Court judges and judicial justices conduct bail hearings, judges conduct preliminary hearings and trials when an accused person pleads not guilty, and judges sentence people who plead guilty or who are found guilty at a trial.
While the Criminal Code requires that some offences (including less serious “summary conviction offences”) be tried in Provincial Court, it gives people charged with many serious offences (“indictable offences”) the choice whether to have their trial in Provincial or Supreme Court. If they elect Supreme Court they also choose whether to be tried by a judge alone or with a jury. All jury trials take place in Supreme Court.
If a person chooses to be tried in Supreme Court, either the Crown prosecutor or the accused person may request that a preliminary inquiry (also called a preliminary hearing) be held in Provincial Court. At the end of a preliminary inquiry a Provincial Court judge does not decide on guilt, but only on whether there is sufficient evidence to commit the accused to stand trial in the Supreme Court.
Two federal statutes apply to most of the criminal matters before the Court:
- The Criminal Code - sets out criminal offences and procedure.
- The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act - contains criminal offences specific to illegal drugs and the substances used to produce them.
In efforts to better meet the needs of First Nations communities and mentally disordered and substance addicted offenders, the Provincial Court has established a number of problem-solving or therapeutic courts around the province. For more information on some of these initiatives see Problem Solving Courts.
The Court works hard to schedule trials without undue delay, but this is a constant challenge. For information on current initiatives designed to manage the Court’s caseflow, see
Provincial Court Scheduling, and Practice Directions issued by the Chief Judge.
For more information on how a criminal trial works see How a Criminal Trial Works - Supreme Court of BC for a general outline, but remember there are some differences between the two courts’ procedures. See also FAQs where there are answers to questions about criminal law and procedure - for example, "How does a criminal trial proceed in Provincial Court?"