COVID19 - Messages from the Chief Judge

Message from the Chief Judge (June 12, 2020)

See How the BC Provincial Court has met the challenges of COVID-19

Message from the Chief Judge (May 14, 2020)

Our court is working hard to expand our use of technology so that we can hold more remote hearings and case conferences during this challenging time. We are working with the government to expand audioconference and videoconference capacity and to enhance bandwidth. Our team has been engaged with a number of our judges as we start using MS Teams for some criminal pre-trial conferences and bail hearings. We have also issued NP 21 Guide to Remote Proceedings which provides guidelines for anyone who will appear before the Provincial Court for a hearing or case conference conducted by audioconference (including telephone or Microsoft Teams) or videoconference (including Microsoft Teams); and a step-by-step guide to appearing in a Microsoft Teams audioconference or videoconference proceeding.

While we are committed to the use of technology, we recognize that expanded use of technology can only occur when we are able to ensure that we maintain the public’s confidence in our ability to manage and hold fair hearings using new technology. We also have to take into account the fact that many of the parties who appear in Provincial Court do not have access to devices or internet plans that would permit them to access the courts remotely. We thank everyone for their patience as we move forward in a way that ensures equal access to the court and enhances confidence in the administration of justice.

Message from the Chief Judge (April 28, 2020)

"To comply with the advice of public health officials to minimize the number of people physically in courthouses, the BC Provincial Court transitioned to an “essential services model” in March, limiting hearings primarily to urgent matters. Since then we have been developing procedures to expand the types of cases that can be heard to include less urgent matters suitable for remote proceedings, resolve matters capable of settlement, and efficiently reschedule some matters.

As part of the Court’s COVID-19 recovery plan, we are now introducing mandatory pre-trial conferences for most adult and youth criminal trials and preliminary inquiries, as well as for family and small claims trials. We are also making telephone sentencing hearings available for some non-urgent out-of-custody matters and resuming case conferences in family and small claims cases by telephone or videoconference.”

Please see today’s eNews, updated Notice to the Profession and Public NP19, and Practice Direction CRIM 12: Criminal Pre-Trial Conferences During COVID-19, for details.

Message from the Chief Judge (April 17, 2020)

The Court has taken a series of practical steps to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Now we are actively reviewing and engaging with various stakeholders about steps we can take to increase court operations. We are working on expanding the types of matters that can be heard while ensuring we continue to protect public health.

Although our present ability to make greater use of technology is limited by system capacity and investment, data security, and legislation, we are continuing to work on projects to increase the use of technology, both inside and outside the courtroom, to improve access to justice.

Even with current constraints, we anticipate being able to increase court operations in a staged approach, particularly as our video and audio conferencing capability grows. For example, we are working on plans to hear remotely some non-urgent matters in all divisions of the Court. We have also reached out to lawyers' organizations and government to assist us in developing a plan to begin to hear trials in a way that respects physical distancing requirements and protects participants by using various "low-tech" measures in courtrooms.

Updates on our progress with these initiatives will be posted on our website's COVID page and Twitter account @BCProvCourt. See also our eNews article “Why isn’t the BC Provincial Court using more video technology for hearings?”

Message from the Chief Judge (April 3, 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting us all with challenges that have no precedent in our lifetimes. Like everyone else, the Court must find ways to meet its responsibilities while reducing the risk of spreading the virus.

To do this, we have transitioned to an “essential services model” that reduces the number of people physically in courthouses but provides essential services to those with urgent matters. In practice this has meant adjourning trials except those deemed urgent by a judge and conducting the hearings that do proceed by telephone and/or video conferencing.

We appreciate how important court matters are to the people affected by them, and how expensive and stressful they can be. We deeply regret the impact that limiting court services will have on everyone who has to wait longer for their “day in court”. But we must balance the imperative that courts remain open with the need to safeguard the health of court staff and court users.

We’re making difficult decisions every day as we finetune procedures to make them as safe, effective and efficient as possible. We are wrestling with issues related to use of technology for remote appearances, including legal requirements, system capacity, privacy concerns, and security considerations.

We are collaborating with others in the justice system – the BC courts, Ministry of the Attorney General, provincial and federal prosecution services, Legal Aid, private lawyers, corrections services, law enforcement agencies and public health officials - and their co-operation has been invaluable.

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to improve the new procedures we’re implementing. We welcome your feedback. Together we’ll meet these challenges.

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