On March 13, 2023 fire devastated the Law Courts in Golden, British Columbia. Not just courtrooms, but paper court files were destroyed. Twenty years ago, this would have caused serious delays or put an end to many court proceedings. But today, the Provincial Court of BC has been able to continue its work in Golden with much less disruption thanks to more recent advances in digital record-keeping and remote court appearances.
Efforts have been underway to change BC courts from a paper-based system to a digital system for more than fifteen years. Those efforts received a boost in 2019 when the provincial government published a five-year plan to use technology to improve court services, the Courts Digital Transformation Strategy, and an even greater boost in 2020 when COVID reduced the number of people who could safely attend court in person.
The BC government’s Court Services Branch employed several systems to digitize different types of court records. The challenge for the Provincial Court was to ensure judges could access these records and use them efficiently in their work – whether preparing for court, in court, or afterwards when writing judgments.
To this end, the Court launched a project in 2016 to provide sufficient content and tools for judges to work in a digital environment. A Judges’ Technology Working Group was created with judges volunteering their time to participate. Members of the group piloted the use of an off-the-shelf app to access and use digital court records but found it unsuitable. Without funding to build a new application from scratch and given the time that would take, the Court decided to enhance an existing system to take the first step - giving judges access to court lists and court documents being stored and managed digitally by the Court Services Branch.
The onset of COVID sped up the ongoing work by government and the Court to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of digital court documents. Today, most filed documents in criminal, family, and small claims matters exist as digital content and can be accessed and used by judges as needed. As a result of this “court modernization” judges can continue much of their work when physical records are not available.
Attending court remotely
The pandemic also sped up work already in progress to increase the Court’s capacity to use secure, web-based video technology for virtual hearings. Lessons learned during the pandemic allow the Court to continue operations remotely - with litigants, lawyers, staff and judges participating from their homes or offices - when floods, fires, or other emergencies prevent them from attending a courthouse in person.
For more info, see Virtual courtrooms & technology-assisted remote appearances.
Court matters in Golden
The Provincial Court has worked with the BC government to find alternate locations for hearings scheduled at the Golden courthouse. As of March 23, 2023, arrangements were in place for: