To comply with the advice of public health officials to minimize the number of people physically in courthouses, the Court transitioned to an “essential services model” in March, limiting hearings primarily to urgent matters. Since then we have been developing procedures to expand the types of cases that can be heard to include less urgent matters suitable for remote proceedings, resolve matters capable of settlement, and efficiently reschedule some matters.
As part of the BC Provincial Court’s COVID-19 recovery plan, we are now:
- introducing mandatory pre-trial conferences for most adult and youth criminal trials and preliminary inquiries, as well as for family and small claims trials;
- making telephone sentencing hearings available for some non-urgent out-of-custody matters; and
- resuming family and small claims case conferences.
Except for summary proceedings court matters (generally less serious matters involving shorter trials) all other trials and preliminary inquiries will be given a pre-trial conference. The conferences will take place by telephone, or by videoconference, unless the judge orders otherwise.
In the past, the BC Provincial Court has held pre-trial conferences to manage longer trials. With our new Practice Direction CRIM 12 the Provincial Court is expanding its case management process to cover the bulk of criminal trials. These pre-trial conferences will serve to determine whether a resolution is possible. If not, judges will canvas matters like what facts are not disputed and can be admitted; whether certain aspects of the trial can be completed virtually or through written submissions; and how much court time the trial will need. Disposing of cases that don’t require trials and creating a process for scheduling those that do efficiently should help to reduce the backlog the Court will face as a result of the pandemic.
We are also introducing a process by which dispositions in some non-urgent out-of-custody criminal files can be conducted by Provincial Court judges, on the record but over the telephone. This will increase access to court and also help with backlog.
Family and small claims cases
Family and child protection case conferences and small claims settlement conferences originally scheduled from May 19 to July 3, 2020 will be heard by telephone or videoconference on the date originally set. The Court will contact parties with connection details and let them know if their start time will be changed.
Family, child protection and small claims trials set from May 19 to July 3 will be converted to conferences in which settlement and/or ways to proceed will be discussed. Parties who had matters scheduled from March 16 to May 16, 2020 but adjourned are also being contacted by the Court to schedule case conferences.