Domestic Violence Courts in B.C. – Part 3: Trial Scheduling Initiative in Kelowna and Penticton

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While efforts are made around the province to give domestic violence cases early dates for trial or guilty plea, in Kelowna and Penticton this is ensured by dedicating two days a month for family violence trials.

Providing early court dates for domestic violence cases is sometimes called “expedited case management”. This trial scheduling practice is intended to:

  • ensure the safety of victims and the public;
  • offer a less punitive, more therapeutic approach for those willing to accept responsibility and seek treatment; and
  • reduce unwarranted victim recantation or other witness-related problems.

In Kelowna and Penticton domestic violence trials must be set within 60 days of arraignment (the court appearance when the defendant and the prosecutor are ready to set a date for trial). Domestic violence trials often do not proceed – either because the defendant pleads guilty or because the complainant is unwilling to testify. Because of the resulting uncertainty about trials proceeding, up to 8 trials are set for each domestic violence trial day.

The complainant is the only prosecution witness scheduled for this trial date. If the trial proceeds and more witnesses are needed, the trial will be continued within 30 days. However, in some cases the prosecutor has spoken to the complainant before a trial date is set and is confident the trial will proceed. In those cases a trial will be scheduled for a longer period on a regular trial day.

Okanagan Regional Administrative Judge Robin Smith says this procedure has improved trial certainty, decreased the number of applications to change bail orders that are often made when trials are delayed, and provided quicker resolution for the families involved. He notes that additional police resources are being dedicated to domestic violence investigations and the number set for trial has fallen significantly since expedited case management began in 2012. 130 trials were set in 2012, 123 in 2013, 85 in 2014, and the trend continues in 2015. It appears that with early trial dates the underlying issues contributing to family violence are being addressed much more quickly.

In the last year a Domestic Violence Unit (DVU) has been established in Kelowna with the help of funding from the province’s civil forfeiture of proceeds of crime. The team includes two police officers, a Ministry of Children and Family Development child protection worker, and a community-based victim service worker from the Elizabeth Fry Society. They all work in the same office to facilitate communication, triage cases promptly, co-ordinate safety planning, and liaise with the designated Crown prosecutor responsible for domestic violence trials. The DVU also meets monthly with representatives of Community Corrections (probation), the Women’s Shelter, the Ministry of Social Development, and others to formulate safety plans for the highest risk cases.

The DVU’s integrated approach is designed to protect victims who are at risk of violence, connect them with resources quickly, and get them to safe accommodation. The Elizabeth Fry Society victim service worker and RCMP domestic violence officers regularly attend court on domestic violence trial days to provide information and resources.

This is the last of a three part series on B.C.’s domestic violence courts. eNews on May 5 and May 12, 2015 described the Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo Domestic Violence Courts.