Now you can use free WiFi in BC Courthouses – but not inside a courtroom, unless you are a lawyer, accredited journalist, or have the judge's permission

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The Court Services Branch of the B.C. Ministry of Justice (CSB) has partnered with an internet service provider to offer free WiFi service in many B.C. courthouses.

The WiFi service
CSB’s previous efforts to provide WiFi in courthouses required users to pay and were not widely used. In an effort to provide court users with free WiFi, CSB consulted two major WiFi providers and contracted with Shaw Communications Inc. to provide WiFi in B.C. courthouses in communities with fibre connectivity, at no cost to the government or end users.

Free WiFi was installed last February in the Victoria Law Courts. It’s been both well-received and well-utilized. As a result, CSB expanded the service to other locations, beginning with Prince George, Kamloops and New Westminster Law Courts last fall.

They anticipate that Chilliwack Law Courts, Port Coquitlam Provincial Courthouse, Nanaimo Law Courts, the Nanaimo Annex and Kelowna Law Courts will be brought on board early in 2016. In the lower mainland they expect that Surrey and Vancouver Provincial Courthouses, Downtown Community Court, Vancouver Law Courts and Robson Provincial Courthouse will follow in spring 2016.

To access the WiFi network, users must set up a user account. Shaw customers can use their existing home account information, while others will get a free guest account. There will be signs and information cards with instructions on how to access the service in each courthouse. CSB staff will direct people to the signs and cards, but they are not otherwise responsible for supporting the WiFi service. The service is not intended to be used for core business purposes, and it does not share any infrastructure with government or Court communications networks, so it is not expected to impact the work of the Court or CSB.

Other Courthouses expected to offer WiFi in the future are listed below.*

How and where you may use an electronic device in a courthouse

Use electronic devices in courthouse lobbies and waiting areas
The B.C. Courts’ policy on the use of electronic devices in courtrooms sets out the rules for using electronic devices – including smartphones, cell phones, computers, laptops, tablets, notebooks, personal digital assistants, or any device capable of transmitting and/or recording data or audio.

Generally speaking, you may use electronic devices and access the internet in the lobbies and waiting areas of courthouses However, the Sheriffs responsible for maintaining order and security retain the right to supervise conduct in the courthouse.

Not inside courtrooms
While the policy is different for the B.C. Court of Appeal, inside Provincial and Supreme Court courtrooms, you may not use an electronic device to receive or transmit data, unless you are a lawyer, an accredited journalist, or have the judge's permission. When you enter a courtroom please turn off cell phones and other devices. If you are conducting a trial without a lawyer and want to use online resources during your trial, ask the judge for permission.

In addition, only accredited media may use an electronic device to record in a courtroom, and then only for note-taking purposes, not for publication. No one may use an electronic device in a courtroom if it interferes with the proceedings. Finally, the policy does not affect the power of a judge or other judicial officer presiding in a courtroom to determine what use, if any, may be made of an electronic device in a courtroom.

The B.C. Courts’ policy on the use of electronic devices in courtrooms was developed after consultation with media representatives and civil liberties groups. It is an attempt to balance the public’s right to access its courts with litigants’ and witnesses’ security and the need to safeguard trial fairness and avoid disrupting proceedings.

Taking photos prohibited
For the privacy and protection of people attending court and for security reasons, you may not take photographs or video inside a B.C. Provincial courthouse without the permission of the Chief Judge. Members of the media wishing to televise court proceedings in a particular case make an application to the judge presiding in that case. This and other related policies are set out in the Court’s Access to Court Proceedings Policy.

*Other Courthouses expected to offer WiFi in the future:

  • Campbell River
  • Courtenay
  • Dawson Creek
  • Duncan
  • Fort St. John
  • Nelson
  • North Vancouver
  • Penticton
  • Port Alberni
  • Quesnel
  • Richmond
  • Salmon Arm
  • Vernon
  • Western Communities
  • Williams Lake