Over the last year the B.C. Provincial Court has established Assignment Courts in seven of the larger courthouses around the province. On the day set for a trial in these locations, lawyers and the parties report to Assignment Court and are sent to a trial court when they are ready to proceed. It is too early to draw firm conclusions about the impact of this change to how trials are scheduled, but early information and feedback is promising.
Previously, trials were assigned to a particular courtroom and judge when the date was set. Delaying the time when a case is assigned to a judge until the trial date has improved the Court’s ability to schedule judges effectively when cases collapse. Fewer cases are unable to proceed due to lack of court time and more trials appear to be starting on time at 9:30 am. Anecdotal information from judges and judicial case managers indicates that wait times for family and child protection trials have decreased since the start of Assignment Courts dealing with all types of cases.
The Court has also established Summary Proceedings Courts for applications, hearings and trials expected to take two hours or less. This appears to be providing people with timely access to court for short hearings in family, civil and criminal disputes, and it has been well-received by lawyers. As anticipated, the number of short criminal trials that don’t proceed because someone fails to attend or the defendant pleads guilty is very high. This increases the number of brief civil and family hearings that can be held earlier in a mixed Summary Proceedings Court.
Provincial Crown Counsel have implemented “Crown File Ownership” in all Assignment Court locations. This means that a criminal case is assigned to a prosecutor much earlier than before. As expected, criminal matters appear to be resolving earlier when one prosecutor has responsibility for the file at an early stage.
Provincial Court representatives have held regular meetings with provincial and federal prosecutors, defense, civil and family lawyers, along with Court Services and Sheriffs to resolve issues during implementation of the new scheduling process.
Judicial case managers are now working to increase booking levels to make use of the increased court capacity obtained through Assignment and Summary Proceedings Courts. They have coped amazingly with expanded duties and the challenges of mastering new scheduling software in addition to helping lawyers and judges adjust to the changes.
Judges have demonstrated great flexibility – moving between courthouses and cases with little notice – in order to meet the needs of the pubic and the Court during implementation of the scheduling initiative.
The Court recognizes and appreciates the contributions of its judicial case managers, judges, lawyers, court staff and all of those involved to the early success of its trial scheduling reform.