Virtual courtrooms & technology-assisted remote appearances

In the 1990s the Court began using hard-wired videoconferencing equipment for after-hours bail hearings at the Justice Centre, short appearances by people in custody, judges hearing matters from other courthouses, and witnesses testifying from outside a courthouse.

The use of video technology continues to save thousand of prisoner transports each year for persons required to appear in court for preliminary matters who can appear instead by video from a remand or custody centre. It also helps the Court maximize judicial resources by allowing judges and judicial case managers in one courthouse to hear preliminary matters from another. The judge is connected by video link with the distant courtroom, avoiding adjournments and making more effective use of judges’ time.

The need to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic advanced the Court’s plans to convert to a web-based videoconferencing system. In May 2020 we began using Microsoft Teams, a secure videoconferencing platform, for virtual proceedings that now include:

  • bail hearings - saving accused persons’ displacement from their communities and hours of travel to courts, enabling smaller court locations to complete trials without interruption, and reducing demands on sheriffs’ time
  • criminal pre-trial conferences – identifying cases that can be resolved without a trial and shortening those that require trial by discussion of evidence that could be admitted
  • criminal sentencing hearings – being held in some cases where neither party is seeking a jail sentence
  • short matters (remand lists) in family and circuit courts – conveniencing parties and lawyers who can attend by telephone or video
  • case and settlement conferences for family and civil trials – resolving disputes through judicial mediation and helping parties to narrow issues and prepare when hearings are needed

While not suitable for every type of case or every litigant, video conferencing can play an important part in improving access to justice, particularly in a province as large as BC.