Canadians expect their judges to be fair, to apply the law, and to live up to high standards of professional and personal conduct. To achieve those standards, judges engage in on-going education designed to maintain their knowledge of the law and ensure they are sensitive to the social and cultural context of the communities in which they work.
To help judges and judicial justices with their professional development, the Provincial Court of British Columbia offers intensive training programs when they are first appointed and ongoing education throughout their judicial careers.
Training for newly appointed judges and judicial justices
Once appointed, all BC Provincial Court judges receive training in four phases – starting with informal orientation and mentoring followed by two week-long education programs, one on law and the other on judicial skills. Topics covered include judicial ethics, substantive law, evidence and procedure, judgment writing, and diversity and social context issues.
Judicial justices also receive training at the Office of the Chief Judge and through shadowing experienced colleagues and on-going mentoring.
Before taking their oath of office, new judges meet with the Chief Judge and the Court’s legal officers and staff at the Office of the Chief Judge to receive information and resources necessary for their new jobs. Among other resources, the Court provides an online library and access to the National Judicial Institute (NJI), an organization providing educational programs and resources to Canadian judges. New judges begin to educate themselves by reading articles on judicial ethics and conduct as well as the law they will need to apply.
Judge-shadowing and mentoring
These days, few lawyers have practised extensively in all areas of the Court’s jurisdiction, so judges are given the opportunity to observe proceedings involving the subject areas in which they have less experience in courthouses around the province. They continue to study the law and judicial ethics, sit in the courtroom, shadow experienced judges who act as mentors, and learn practical aspects of their new responsibilities. During this period they are gradually given courtroom assignments.
Spending time in different courthouses and learning from different judges introduces new judges to a variety of styles and practices they can choose from and incorporate in their own work. After this observation period, judges begin to work in the region to which they’ve been assigned. In some regions of the province one of their fellow judges will serve as a designated mentor. But whether or not a specific mentor is designated, their colleagues will offer assistance and support throughout their judicial careers.
New Judges’ Education Program
Each spring, judges appointed during the preceding year attend a six-day New Judges’ Education Program organized by the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges (CAPCJ) for provincial, territorial and military judges from across the country. With a primary focus on criminal law, including sexual assault trials, and the Canadian Charter of Rights, this intensive program offers judicial and academic speakers with national reputations and the opportunity to learn about practices and procedures in other parts of Canada.
Judicial Skills Program
Each fall, the recently appointed judges attend a six-day judicial skills seminar presented by the NJI and CAPCJ. The program includes sessions on judicial ethics, the delivery of written and oral judgments, self-represented litigants, communication skills, managing the courtroom, and mediation in family and civil cases.
Whether as a result of new legislation constantly being enacted by the Canadian Parliament or BC Legislature or due to new decisions by appeal courts, the law is constantly changing. Our society and cultures also continue to change. To keep up with all this change, judges must continue learning throughout their careers.
Judges are responsible for their own professional development, but the Court provides resources and educational opportunities to help them stay current.
Twice-yearly Provincial Court programs
The Provincial Court requires judges to attend two and a half day education programs twice a year. These programs are planned and organized by the Education Committee of the BC Provincial Court Judges Association, a group of judges who volunteer their time.
The BC Provincial Court has been an innovator in judicial education in Canada. The Court began using adult education techniques in the 1980s, and Education Committee members continue to follow the adult education literature and employ progressive new approaches to ensure education programs are interactive, engaging and effective.
Accountable to Judicial Council, the Education Committee provides programs that are relevant and responsive to changes in law and circumstances affecting judicial practice. It invites expert presenters from across Canada or beyond to share their knowledge and experience with judges.
Topics include current legal issues and changes in the law, but also broader factors related to the human problems judges deal with, the challenges faced by vulnerable groups in society, and themes reflecting the diversity of the province. This “social context” education provides judges with the skills necessary to ensure stereotypes and myths do not influence their decisions. Subjects relevant to areas of particular public concern like sexual assault trials, trauma informed practice, mental health issues and decisions affecting children are presented regularly.
In the late 1980s judges of this court pioneered social context education for judges in Canada with gender equality and diversity programs offered to judges of the western provinces. Since then the Court has incorporated social context education as an aspect of all its education programs.
All judges attend the twice-yearly programs unless they have been otherwise assigned by the Chief Judge. Getting together with judges from across the province to discuss their work is an additional benefit of the bi-annual education programs, as judges share insights and learn from one another throughout their time together.
Judicial justices attend similar twice-yearly training programs on topics related to their work.
Find information about speakers and topics for each year’s programs in the Court’s Annual Reports. For example, as noted on p. 50 of the Court’s 2017/2018 Annual Report, the Spring Judges Education Conference in April 2017 was held in Victoria and covered the topic of Sexual Assault Trials. The keynote address by Manitoba Court of Appeal Justice Freda Steel provided an understanding and compassionate overview of how judges deal with and decide difficult sexual assault cases. The balance of the conference took the judges through problems and challenges that typically arise in this type of trial. The conference endnote was provided by a presentation from Sheldon Kennedy who offered insights into factors affecting victims’ vulnerability and disclosure. All programs are developed and delivered in a way that reflects the province’s diversity.
Other programs delivered by the Court
A variety of additional programs are presented for smaller groups of judges and judicial justices to fulfil a variety of education needs. They include the following.
Criminal Law Boot Camp
Designed for the Court’s recently appointed judges, this intensive three and a half day program includes detailed examination of criminal law and practice through a combination of written material, presentations, videos and exercises.
Family Law Boot Camp
Currently in development, this course adopts a similar approach to the Criminal Law Boot Camp. The first will be delivered in May 2020.
Judgment Writing Course
This two-day course is taught by university English professors (who also teach other Canadian judges). They provide helpful critiques of previous judgments written by the judges and ways to improve the structure, context, style and conciseness of written decisions, including enhancing how judges, through their judgments, can communicate more effectively with their audiences.
Computer and legal research courses
Judges can take one-on-one and small group training sessions to hone their computer skills and ability to use technological and legal research tools.
The Court offers a series of noon hour webinars on current issues. Judges or judicial justices watch a presentation or panel discussion and submit questions and comments from their offices. Topics have included:
External education programs
It is recommended that Canadian judges invest the equivalent of ten days a year in professional development. To meet these needs, BC Provincial Court judges and judicial justices may attend educational programs presented by other organizations offering legal and judicial education including, but not limited to:
Provincial Court judges who preside in French may attend French-language courses to maintain their proficiency.
In addition to in-person programs held across the country and an online library of information resources, the National Judicial Institute offers online judicial education programs, including, for example, the Sexual Assault Trials Video Series.
Originally pioneered in the 1990s for the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges by BC Provincial Court Judge Jean Lytwyn, these courses involve judges from across Canada discussing issues raised in sample problems by posting their thoughts online. Facilitated by an academic and an experienced judge, the programs last for several weeks and permit judges to participate at any time of day or night.
Individual judges and judicial justices work hard to keep up with changes in the law. To help them do this, the Court provides various books, access to online law databases, digests, and other digital resources. The Court also maintains an internal website that contains law and practice information and tools, including recorded webinars and course materials from the twice-yearly programs so existing and new judges and judicial justices can access them at anytime. During the spring and fall, judges may get research assistance from law students who intern with the Court.
From the CAPCJ Committee on the Law, judges receive analytical summaries of any new federal legislation that is enacted, at the time it is enacted, if it impacts the law or practice in provincial courts (for example, Bill C-51 impacting the trial of sexual assault matters procedurally and substantively). Judges and judicial justices also receive summaries prepared by the Court’s legal officers of select appellate decisions and new federal and provincial legislation impacting the law or procedure in the Court.
For more on judicial education see these eNews articles: