Behind the scenes - how the Court works

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Judges and judicial justices don’t just preside in court and volunteer in their communities. They also volunteer to serve on the various committees established within the Court to help the Chief Judge with the Court’s administration and contribute to the education of their colleagues.

The Court’s Committees

The Court’s Governance Committee, composed of the Chief Judge, Associate Chief Judges, Regional Administrative Judges and the Court’s Executive Director of Organizational Services, advises the Chief Judge and the Court on policy and planning. The Judicial Administration Committee, composed of the same individuals, is responsible for the operations of the Court.

The work of the Court’s Education Committee, chaired by Judge Rita Bowry, is described in Judging: a lifelong journey of learning. The Committee has just organized and presented an outstanding education program in Vancouver for judges from BC and across Canada: “Judging in the Extreme”. This education program coincided with a joint meeting of the BC and Canadian Provincial Court Judges’ Associations, organized by a committee chaired by Judge Mayland McKimm who recently became the President of the national organization for a one-year term.

Judicial Justice Kathryn Arlitt plans and organizes bi-annual education programs, evening speakers, and webinars for judicial justices around the province with the assistance of Administrative Judicial Justice Gerry Hayes and the Chair of the Judicial Justice Association’s Education Committee Hunter Gordon.

The Office of the Chief Judge is at Robson Square, Vancouver

The Chief Judge has also appointed committees to focus on matters relating to criminal, civil, and family law. The Criminal Law Committee, chaired by Judge Adrian Brooks, has drafted standard wording of terms or “conditions” commonly used in bail, probation, conditional sentence, and other orders made by Provincial Court judges and judicial justices in criminal matters. These terms are being reviewed to ensure they use plain language and are easily understood by the people who must obey them and those who must enforce them. Once finalized, they will be installed in the Court Services’ computer system around the province. Having standardized wording for common conditions can help judges to make clear and enforceable orders. And when judicial officers make orders using these terms Court Clerks in the courtroom and staff in Court Registries can produce the orders more quickly.

When lawyers are appointed as judges they have expertise in some aspects of the Court’s work, but rarely in all aspects. They attend national education programs for new judges and are mentored by experienced judges. However, mastering areas of the law they have not practised in can be a challenge. The Criminal Law Committee has devoted considerable energy to supporting newly appointed judges as they begin their work in criminal courts. One of the Committee’s goals is to assemble teaching materials and develop a model for delivering that support in a comprehensive and effective manner that could be adapted for other areas of the Court’s jurisdiction.

The Criminal Law Committee routinely considers new legislation and advises the Chief Judge of its possible implications for the Court. For example, in 2015 the Committee reviewed the federal Victims Bill of Rights (Bill C-32) and considered its impact on judicial interim release (bail) procedures.

Finally, the Committee has reviewed the Court’s case management practices for criminal cases, and proposed legislative changes and improved dissemination of the decisions of the Court.

The mandate of the Civil Law Committee, chaired by Judge John Milne, is to provide advice and assistance to the Chief Judge and the Court on matters referred to it by the Chief Judge and the Governance Committee relating to the Court’s jurisdiction in civil law and procedure. This committee has considered matters including ways to assist self-represented litigants to prepare for trial. It is also involved in ongoing work related to Implementation of the Civil Resolution Tribunal, including ways to ensure smooth transition of cases from the new online dispute resolution tribunal. Other aspects of this work involve meetings with government to consider and review draft changes to Small Claims Court Rules and process.

The Family Law Committee advises and assists the Chief Judge and members of the Court on family law matters (matters related to the BC Family Law Act, Child, Family and Community Service Act, Family Maintenance Enforcement Act, Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, and other matters relating to children and families).

Chaired by Regional Administrative Judge Michael Brecknell, this busy committee has updated the standardized Family Law Act order terms, originally compiled and edited by Judge Ann Rounthwaite. In Court Services’ computers around the province and available on the Court’s website, these orders reduce the time needed to provide copies of orders to family court litigants. Work is being done to ensure that these orders are regularly updated and use plain language wherever possible to ensure that they are both easy to understand and enforceable.

The committee has also reviewed best practices for conducting Notice of Motion hearings and prepared an updated form to accompany Without Notice Applications. It surveyed judges and prepared best practices guidelines for conducting family case conferences by electronic means. It has also advised the Chief Judge on Hague Convention protocol issues, participated in the drafting of a practice direction for emergency after-hours applications, and its members act as the designated judges to hear such applications.

Some members attended and the committee has considered the recommendations of the Justice Summit on Family Law Proceedings. Committee members have also participated as faculty in the Court’s judicial education conferences and served on the editorial board for the National Judicial Institute’s Family Law Electronic Benchbook. Judge Mark Takahashi co-chairs the joint Government/Court Family Court Rules Working Group in which judges are working with government, lawyers and members of the public on a long-term project – the comprehensive redrafting of the Provincial Court Family Rules and Forms.

Judges Greg Rideout, Kathryn Denhoff and Eugene Jamieson work with Professor Patricia Barkaskas to co-ordinate the UBC Allard School of Law - Provincial Court interns program.

In addition to volunteering for these permanent committees, judges and judicial justices serve on temporary working groups and committees tasked with various projects, such as trial scheduling reform, development of “smart forms” for court orders, and educating journalism students on the justice system. Individual judges are also designated by the Chief Judge to represent the Court with organizations like the Justice Education Society, the Law Foundation, and Mediate BC.

For more on the Court’s governance see its Annual Reports.

Current members of Court committees:

Governance and Judicial Administration Committees
Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree, Associate Chief Judges Melissa Gillespie and Susan Wishart, Regional Administrative Judges Michael Brecknell, Robert Hamilton, Robert Higinbotham, Robin Smith, James Wingham, and Executive Director Craig Wilkinson

Civil Law Committee
Judge John Milne (chair), Associate Chief Judge Susan Wishart, Judges Joanne Challenger, Kathryn Denhoff, Nancy Phillips, Donna Senniw, Kenneth Skilnick, and the Court’s legal officers Caroline Berkey and Karen Leung

Criminal Law Committee
Judge Adrian Brooks (chair), Judges Ellen Burdett, Chris Cleaveley, Bonnie Craig, Reginald Harris, Greg Koturbash, Carmen Rogers, Dan Weatherly, Associate Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie

Education Committee
Judge Rita Bowry (chair), , Judges James Bahen, Harbans Dhillon, Stella Frame, Reginald Harris, Patricia Janzen, Parker MacCarthy, Marguerite Shaw, and Thomas Woods and Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree.

Family Law Committee
Regional Administrative Judge Michael Brecknell (chair), Judges Patricia Bond, Gregory Brown, Rose Raven, Justine Saunders, Marguerite Shaw, Mark Takahashi, James Wingham, Lisa Wyatt