Court issues standardized terms for criminal court orders – its latest initiative to produce orders more quickly, accurately and consistently

Posted to: 

Provincial Court judges make tens of thousands of court orders every year. Each order must be typed by the Court Clerk in the courtroom as the judge pronounces it, and printed on a paper court order by staff in the Court Registry, before being given to the people affected by it. While improved technology has shortened this process in recent years, it can be time-consuming and work-intensive. Provincial Court judges have a long history of embracing technology to improve efficiency and shorten the time people must wait to obtain their orders.

For decades, individual judges have assisted Court Clerks by providing lists of their preferred wording for orders commonly made in criminal matters. In the 1970s, with the support of the Provincial Court Judges Association and the Office of the Chief Judge, now retired Judge Cunliffe Barnett drafted probation orders that were distributed to all judges, with a view to promoting use of enforceable wording and creating consistency. In those days Court Clerks noted orders by writing them out longhand. Those standard terms tended to be lengthy, and perhaps as a result, their adoption by judges around the province was limited.

However, judges in various courthouses adapted the orders and drafted lists of standard wording for bail, probation, and later conditional sentence orders, for use in their courthouse. Court Registries loaded numbered ‘picklists’ of orders onto the courtroom computers, so when a judge was able to use the standard wording the clerk could pick it from the list and edit it as required, inserting details applicable to the case.

These numbered picklists were widely used. Judges would make orders by stating the number before pronouncing the term, to enable the Court Clerk to call it up quickly. Some people who appeared frequently in court became very familiar with the procedure – facing detention in a bail hearing, one Prince George man is reported to have asked, “Can’t I be released on 324, 579 and 602?”

In 2011, with the support of the Surrey Family Court Committee, a team of judges from around the province led by now retired Judge Ann Rounthwaite produced a book of standard wording for orders made in family court under the various family law statutes applied in Provincial Court. This was circulated throughout the province. In 2013, when the BC Family Law Act came into force, Judges Rounthwaite, Raven and G. Brown produced a picklist of orders under the new statute, and it has since been updated by the Court’s Family Law Committee. This picklist has been distributed to courtrooms throughout the province, so when judges or lawyers use the standard wording an order can be captured more quickly and accurately in the courtroom and produced more quickly in the Registry.

Over the years, the Court Services Branch and its hard-working, public-spirited staff members have welcomed judges’ efforts to streamline the process. They have worked closely with judges to load multiple drafts of standardized orders into their computers (accepting revisions uncomplainingly as judges fine-tuned their orders). Court Services staff have experimented with picklists and devised ways to make them work as effectively as possible.

The latest in the efforts of individual judges and the Court to streamline the process of producing court orders are new standardized picklists of wording for Bail, Probation and Conditional Sentence Orders, created by Judges Koturbash, Hewson, Blake, and Crockett. The lists are the result of an extensive process during which input was received from various sources including BC Community Corrections, the Canadian Bar Association’s Criminal Law Committee, Legal Services Society, provincial Crown Counsel, Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Provincial Court Criminal Law Committee. Other courts in Canada, the UK and the US were also consulted. The picklists have now been placed on computers in every Provincial Court courtroom and Registry for use by the Court Clerks and Registry staff, distributed to judges electronically and in hard copy, and posted on the Court’s website.

Judges exercise their own discretion as to how they word their orders, and may prefer wording that is different from the standardized version, or change the standardized wording to suit the circumstances of each case. But when lawyers request, and judges decide they are able to use, standardized wording it can speed the process of producing orders. The Court’s Criminal Law Committee will continue to work on picklists and hopes to produce updated terms for Youth Court orders and picklists for the cognitively impaired in due course.