In order to help minimize the spread of COVID-19, the Provincial Court of BC is holding urgent family, child protection, and small claims hearings by telephone instead of in person. We are also working towards being able to offer some hearings using video technology, when that is appropriate for the parties involved and their case.
The Court has issued guidelines for people taking part in telephone or video hearings, and this eNews explains some of the procedures a judge may use in these hearings.
We are now holding urgent hearings by telephone, but we are working on being able to hold video hearings as well, using Microsoft Teams. Once we have that capability and until in-person hearings can resume, the judge will decide whether to conduct your urgent hearing:
In this article, we’ll use the term “virtual” to refer to a hearing held in any of these ways.
The Court's NP 21 Virtual Proceedings and Remote Attendance in the Provincial Court contains advice on how to use your telephone for a hearing. It also contains a step-by-step guide to connecting and using Microsoft Teams (see Appendix “A”), for use once we begin conducting hearings this way.
Everyone taking part in a telephone or video hearing should read the Court's NP 21 Virtual Proceedings and Remote Attendance in the Provincial Court. It contains advice on etiquette and guidelines for taking part in a virtual hearing.
The evidence a judge will consider in a virtual hearing will consist of any affidavits (written statements that are sworn or affirmed to be true) and other documents that have been filed (sent to the court), provided the judge considers them relevant to the issues in the hearing.
If you have provided an affidavit that has not been sworn or affirmed, the judge will probably ask you to swear or affirm that it is true during the hearing.
In some cases the judge will permit spoken testimony to be given during a virtual hearing. That means a party or witness will take an oath or affirm to tell the truth and then talk about relevant facts. They may be questioned by their lawyer if they have one, the judge, and/or by the other party or their lawyer.
When one or both parties are representing themselves, the judge may adjust traditional courtroom procedures to meet the needs of the people taking part and the limitations imposed by the telephone or video format.
If both parties have lawyers, the procedure may be more like a courtroom hearing. See these articles on family and small claims hearings for information on traditional courtroom procedures and how they are sometimes modified:
Whatever procedure is used, the hearing will have a structure to ensure it is fair, complete and orderly. The judge needs to get all the important information from both parties in a logical way.
A telephone or video hearing may include some or all of these steps. The judge may:
Whatever procedure is used, each party will have a chance to speak, say what they’re asking for, and explain why. If there are important questions you think the other party should be asked, tell the judge. Depending on the circumstances, the judge may not permit the parties to question each other, but you can ask the judge to ask the other party important questions.