Pursuant to the Criminal Code, the Provincial Court has jurisdiction in all criminal matters, except murder committed by adults, and a few obscure offences, such as treason and "alarming her majesty." Over 95% of all criminal cases in the province are heard in Provincial Court, with the remainder in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Criminal cases heard in Provincial Court may take the form of guilty pleas, preliminary inquiries, applications, or trials before a Judge. There are no jury trials in Provincial Court.
Three federal statutes apply to the great majority of criminal matters before the Court:
- Criminal Code - This federal statute sets out criminal offences and procedure. Criminal offences may be summary conviction offences, indictable offences, or hybrid offences, prosecuted as either summary conviction or indictable offences at the election of the crown prosecutor.
- Controlled Drugs and Substances Act - This federal statute contains criminal offences specific to illegal drugs and the substances used to produce them.
- Youth Criminal Justice Act - This federal statute applies to young people, 12 to 17 years of age who are charged with criminal offences. Under this act, the Provincial Court is designated as the Youth Court for British Columbia.
Recent amendments to the Criminal Code have affected the Court's criminal jurisdiction in several areas. There is a new procedure for DNA warrants and a revision to blood-warrant provisions which allows testing for drugs as well as alcohol. The maximum penalty for impaired driving causing death has increased to life imprisonment, and the offence of operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or railway equipment while disqualified has been removed from the absolute jurisdiction of a Provincial Court Judge.
The number of criminal cases initiated in the Provincial Court has continued on a downward trend, which commenced about five years ago. The number of new adult cases filed for the 2000-2001 fiscal year was 105,771, a decrease of some 1,687 from the previous fiscal year.