Open accessible courts are fundamental to our democracy. The rule of law depends on it. However, the public, litigants, court staff, court participants, counsel, judges and the media need to know that when they come to court they will be safe.
As of June 8, 2020, the Provincial Court will be resuming in-person proceedings to hear priority matters in two courtrooms in each of the following six locations: Surrey, 222 Main Street (Vancouver), Robson Square (Vancouver), Victoria, Prince George, and Kelowna. As of June 15, 2020 the Provincial Court will be opening one courtroom for in-person appearances in each of the locations listed in Appendix “A”. In-person proceedings will only be available for priority matters that cannot otherwise be accommodated remotely. For most cases, the processes set out in the current Notice, including the remote proceedings described below, will continue. Information about further stages of courtroom re-openings will be provided on the Court’s website.
Government has engaged the services of an experienced professional consultant to provide recommendations regarding proactive measures to minimize transmission of COVID-19 in our courthouses and courtrooms. They are in the process of meeting with stakeholders to make recommendations necessary to keep the public safe when attending court. These recommendations take into account the most recent directions from the Public Health Officer for the Province. Further information about the changes being made to enable physical distancing and reduce the risk of transmission of the virus will be on our website in due course.
Despite COVID-19, the Court has always been open and has heard urgent matters in our family, small claims and criminal divisions as set out in our Notice. We are continuing to hear those matters, as well as the work set out below.
In our Small Claims Division, we are now conducting settlement conferences by telephone on all matters that were scheduled for conferences since March 15, 2020 and were adjourned due to COVID-19.We are also conducting pre-trial conferences on all trial matters that were adjourned with a view to determining if the case can be resolved and, if not, whether admissions can be made, and if the trial can be heard by videoconferencing using Microsoft Teams.
In our Family Division, we are recovering and rescheduling all of our case conferences that were adjourned due to COVID-19. They are proceeding by telephone, and if issues cannot be resolved, the judge will canvas whether the hearing can proceed by audio or videoconference and what admissions can be made. Justice Access Centres are now working virtually and litigants can obtain information from them about referral services, mediation, and assistance in preparing their necessary documents so they are able to have more focussed appearances in court.
In our Criminal Division, we continue to conduct our bail hearings remotely. Opening courtrooms will not change this process. We are now conducting pre-trial conferences on all criminal trials that are scheduled for longer than half a day. These proceedings are attended virtually by counsel and the judge using Microsoft Teams. Pre-trial conferences are conducted by judges who proactively engage with the parties to explore resolutions. Counsel are expected to be prepared and able to make decisions. If resolution is not possible, then files will be case managed to restrict the use of court time to what is absolutely necessary to ensure a fair and timely trial, in this time of limited court resources. Remote appearances are already being scheduled to accommodate guilty pleas on criminal matters, where the Crown is not seeking a jail sentence.
In our Traffic Division, traffic and ticket matters scheduled from March 18 to June 12, 2020 are adjourned without the disputant having to attend Court and will be rescheduled to a later date. A notice of a new Appearance date will be sent to the disputant by mail to the address on file with the Court.
We are working with Court Services Branch to determine when additional types of new filings will be accepted.
These are challenging times for the people of our Province and we are aware many services are beginning to resume. The Provincial Court is working very hard to balance public safety and the need to provide access to justice to uphold the rule of law. We are doing so through a combination of case conferences to help parties find resolutions to their matters, case management to assist parties to identify the issues that require a trial, and then scheduling hearings either remotely or in person depending on the nature of the issues. We intend to resume some in person hearings as set out above. The Court appreciates the efforts of all court participants to adapt during this period of rapid change.
See the Message from the Chief Judge (May 14) for details on how we are working to expand our use of technology to enable us to hold more remote hearings and case conferences.
Get more details in the Notice, Practice Direction, and FAQs.