Early impact of new Trial Scheduling processes … and two simple things lawyers can do to help

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The Provincial Court Scheduling Project got underway in 2011 when the Court began researching how to improve the way it scheduled trials. Provincial Court judges wanted to shorten the time people had to wait for trials and avoid disruptive delays once trials began. After much study and research, the Court decided to create a more effective and efficient trial scheduling model that would build on the experience of courts in other provinces, but would be designed to fit B.C. needs.

Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree says, “One of the most important administrative responsibilities of a chief judge is the assignment of judges to courtrooms to hear cases. The new trial scheduling process was developed with the goal of ensuring the Court’s judicial resources are effectively utilized to achieve justice and meet the needs of the public.”

The new system has three main features:

  • Changes to the Criminal Caseflow Management Rules reduce the number of times people charged with criminal offences and their lawyers have to appear in court before trial. Judicial Case Managers (JCMs) were given expanded powers so scheduling appearances could take place before a JCM rather than before a Provincial Court judge. This freed up judges to spend more time conducting trials.
  • In seven of the busiest courts in the province, people attend an Assignment Court on the day set for their trial and are sent to a trial court room after confirming they are ready to proceed. Because trials may not proceed as scheduled when people change their minds or don’t show up, judges are not assigned to a court room until trials are confirmed each morning.
  • The Court has developed new scheduling software and mounted digital displays in those seven courthouses so people can see the courtroom assigned to their trial as soon as it is determined – something like the arrivals and departures screens in airports.

The model has been implemented around the province in stages, beginning in 2013. The Court has a tradition of working collaboratively with stakeholders in the justice system and it has worked hard to do that throughout the development, design, implementation, and ongoing evaluation of the new scheduling model. While it is still early to draw conclusions, there are some noticeable benefits in many locations:

  • Improved communication between lawyers and JCMs before trial dates
  • Improved communication between JCMs and Court Services about staffing and other requirements
  • More trials are starting on time at 9:30. Previously, judges needed to spend considerable time at the start of the day canvassing each trial set in their court room to determine which were proceeding and which should be heard first
  • More court time is available for Family and Small Claims trials
  • It is sometimes possible to schedule continuations the next day or with little delay when trials do not finish within their estimated time
  • Judges can be assigned to other courthouses or can hear matters from other courthouses by video when trials do not proceed in their home courthouse
  • Court staff’s time is not wasted opening courtrooms that are not used
  • More trials are proceeding as scheduled. This may result from prosecutors being given earlier responsibility for files (“Crown file ownership”) in Assignment Court locations, as well as from other aspects of the new model
  • Fewer cases must be adjourned due to lack of court time
  • Short trials of all types are scheduled in Summary Proceedings Courtrooms, providing earlier hearing dates and garnering positive feedback from all stakeholders

The project team is wrapping up its activities and transferring on-going support of the model to the Court’s regular staff. It expects to complete its work by the end of March, 2016. Evaluation will continue.

Scheduling Project Sponsor, Associate Chief Judge Nancy Phillips says, “This was a major undertaking for the Court and its stakeholders. The results to date have been gratifying. They would not have occurred without the hard work and commitment of many people, both within and outside the Court.”

The Court is grateful to all counsel for their willingness to engage in the new trial scheduling system. There are two things lawyers can do to help the Court start trials on time and make trial scheduling work well:

  • Let the JCM know in advance if you do not expect your trial to proceed as scheduled.
  • Arrive in Assignment Court on time at 9:00 a.m. This is the number one issue hindering the effectiveness of Assignment Court.

Find more information at Provincial Court Trial Scheduling. Hours of operation for Assignment and other types of Provincial courts around the province are being added to this website, beginning with the larger courthouses. Smaller court locations will be added this week.