Provincial Court salutes outgoing Associate Chief Judges

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Judges Gurmail Gill and Nancy Phillips completed their terms as Associate Chief Judge earlier this year. The Provincial Court of British Columbia recognizes and is grateful for the immense contributions both have made to moving the Court well into the 21st century.

Associate Chief Judges are designated by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Chief Judge, under section 10(1) of the Provincial Court Act. Appointments are usually for a term of three years, but may be renewed. Subject to the direction of the Chief Judge, an Associate Chief Judge has the same powers and duties as the Chief Judge

Judge Nancy Phillips

Judge Phillips was born and grew up in Nelson BC, attended high school and college in Kamloops, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and an LLB (law degree) from the University of Victoria. She practised criminal and family law and served as Crown Counsel in Kamloops, Kelowna, and Winnipeg. Appointed a judge in 2001, she was an Administrative Judge – first for the Okanagan and then for the Robson Square and Richmond District, before serving as Associate Chief Judge from 2009 until 2016.

Judge Phillips’ administrative responsibilities included several major projects. She led the Provincial Court Scheduling Project, a reform designed to make the most efficient, effective and equitable use of judicial resources. Beginning with research on systems used elsewhere in Canada, the project took five years and included developing a new trial scheduling system, building software to meet BC’s needs, and working with Judicial Case Managers throughout the process to plan and implement changes to their role.

Judge Phillips proved particularly effective at involving stakeholders in the project in a meaningful way and managing change skilfully. While the impact of some aspects of the new system varies around the province, the Court has received almost universally positive feedback on the Summary Proceeding Courtrooms set up to deal with short hearings and trials in the seven largest Provincial courthouses.

Judge Phillips expresses appreciation for the way the Court, the Legal Services Society, the BC Ministry of Justice, and Court Services Branch have been able to work together to achieve improvements in the justice system. She worked with the Legal Services Society to find ways to align the Court’s scheduling initiatives with Legal Aid and the results have made an invaluable contribution to trial scheduling reform. For example, in Port Coquitlam expanding the criminal Duty Counsel funded by Legal Aid has reduced the number of appearances and the time cases take from first appearance to disposition (from start to finish).

Other projects led by Judge Phillips include civil court reform. Pilot projects were begun in the Robson Square and Richmond Provincial Courts, but possible expansion of these initiatives was put on hold when the government announced it would move to online dispute resolution of small claims disputes. Judge Phillips also represented the Court in working with the provincial government to remedy problems in the way the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act (ISO) worked. This project was featured in eNews 06/21/2016.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Court’s administration,” Judge Phillips says. “It was a wonderful experience, both personally and professionally.” She reports having learned from seeing how government moves projects forward, both more and less effectively, and from meeting judges in administrative positions in other provinces. She also experienced both the challenges and the value of maintaining good working relationships with government and other stakeholders while preserving judicial independence. Judge Phillips is now enjoying her return to sitting full time in the Vancouver Region, but is trying to capture what was learned from her experience to make it available for those who succeed her.

Judge Gurmail Gill

Judge Gill was born and raised in BC’s lower mainland, and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in biochemistry and an LLB (law degree) from the University of British Columbia. He practised law in Abbotsford and Vancouver until he was appointed a judge in 1994. On leave from the Court, he chaired the 4th Royal Commission on Workers Compensation in BC from 1996 until 1999, producing comprehensive recommendations for reform. He served as Administrative Judge for the South Fraser Judicial District, and then as Associate Chief Judge from 2009 until 2016, with delegated responsibility for judicial administration of the Court.

He describes his role in judicial administration as overseeing the machinery that provides all the services necessary to support judicial officers in their work. “That work, supported by the dedicated staff at the Office of the Chief Judge, is largely invisible,” he says, “and it should be. The role of an Associate Chief Judge is multi-faceted. We also serve as a resource for the Chief Judge, and must be ready to step into his or her shoes when necessary. We sit in court whenever we can, not just to help with the Court’s caseload but to keep a finger on the pulse of the Court. It’s crucial that judges involved in administration not lose touch with day-to-day issues, and not become isolated.”

Among his other responsibilities, Judge Gill served for 6 years on the British Columbia Judicial Council, the body mandated by statute to screen and approve all applicants for judicial office on the Court. He said: “Judges make decisions every day with the potential to impact people’s lives in significant ways, affecting their liberties, their family arrangements and their private disputes. It is both inspiring and humbling to participate on a Council entrusted with identifying judicial candidates through a fair, objective and rigorous process.”

Judge Gill’s judicial administration responsibilities included the Judicial Justices’ division. He enjoyed working with the judicial officers who make important decisions on search warrants and bail and sit in traffic and by-law courts. He also played an important role in the management and governance of specialized courts, most notably the Downtown Community Court (DCC). As the Chief Judge’s delegate he regularly met with representatives of the executive branch of government on matters pertaining to the governance, resourcing and administration of DCC.

Judge Gill also expresses satisfaction at being part of the Court’s administrative reorganization in 2012 - consolidating the Court’s 13 former administrative districts into 5 broader regions, each led by a Regional Administrative Judge. The new management group he chaired, known as the Judicial Administration Committee (JAC), reflected a renewed sense of structure, rigour and responsivity.

Judge Gill also enjoyed his role in various initiatives taken to increase the Court’s effective use of technology, employing improved information systems and statistical dashboards to better inform the JAC’s management decisions. He chaired a working group that developed computer generated “smart forms” enabling court clerks to create a combined record and consent court order in a family case conference room during the conference. It is then signed by the judge and the parties, who leave with copies of their order. Previously, delays in processing these orders caused confusion and frustration for the parties.

Most recently, Judge Gill guided a project still in progress that will eventually result in the implementation of a new business intelligence platform. “Our Court is really at the forefront in gathering, analysing, and utilising information to better evaluate and manage what we do,” he said. “Using technology in new ways enables us to recombine information and mine data with more sophistication – to ultimately better support the Court’s work and make decisions impacting the use of public resources. “

Judge Gill too found serving as Associate Chief Judge a rewarding experience, but is enjoying his return to sitting in the Fraser Region.

Chief Judge Crabtree’s tribute
The Court is grateful to both judges for their outstanding contributions in the demanding role of Associate Chief Judge for the last seven years. Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree said, “The role of our ACJs is not an easy one. They assist and support the Chief Judge by assuming a huge variety of delegated responsibilities. They must be willing and able to deal with challenging issues whenever the need arises, and must often work evenings and weekends with little warning. At the same time the demands of the work create an opportunity to work closely and collaboratively with a small group of people as we respond to the issues that confront the administration of the court.

Throughout my six years as Chief Judge I have been both supported and guided by the experience and wise counsel of Nancy and Gurm. Working with each of them has been a privilege and a pleasure. The successes achieved by the Court over the past seven years were made possible by a collective approach to governance and their tireless efforts. I wish to publicly thank them and express my appreciation for their amazing contributions to the Court and to public service.”