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Provincial Court Scheduling Project: Speeding up the criminal court process

Scales of justice

This December the BC Provincial Court made changes to the criminal court process to improve its efficiency. For someone facing a trial, there are two changes that will impact their experience with the court process.

The first of these changes is the elimination of mandatory trial confirmation hearings. These hearings were held after the accused entered a not guilty plea to make sure that everyone was ready to go to trial. These hearings are now optional and will only be scheduled if necessary. As part of this change, lawyers will no longer need to prepare trial readiness reports and arraignment reports. Any trial confirmation hearings that are already booked will go ahead, although lawyers can request a cancellation.

The second change involves the two other court hearings for accused persons: the first appearance and the arraignment hearing. These hearings may now be in front of a judicial case manager rather than a justice of the peace or judge. To allow for this, the authority of judicial case managers has been expanded.

These two changes are meant to move simple matters from first appearance to arraignment within 60 days, and are meant to move more complex matters within 90 days.

More changes are in the works for 2014, which will help cut down on wasted court time.

The new Family Law Act: Enforcement of court orders

On November 24, 2011, BC’s new Family Law Act was introduced. It will come into effect March 18, 2013. This act will have wide-reaching effects on family law in the province. Here is a summary of one of the important changes. For more information, see the act itself and our introduction to the act.

The new act allows the courts to make a number of conduct orders. Conduct orders are court orders intended to:

  • help manage the court process,
  • manage the people involved, and
  • encourage dispute settlement.

These orders can, among other things:

  • order you to attend counselling or out-of-court dispute resolution sessions,
  • order you to follow an existing court order,
  • restrict communication or contact between you and your spouse, or
  • order you to maintain the payments on the family home.

For example, if John Smith kept sending Jane Smith angry letters or text messages, the court could make a conduct order instead of a protection order. The conduct order would manage how John communicates with Jane.

Conduct orders also include case management orders. These kinds of orders can:

  • cancel or dismiss all or part of a claim,
  • instruct one party not to make any more court applications without the court’s permission, or
  • say that any future applications for orders will have to go back to the same judge.

For example, if John kept making applications about little things, like where the children’s clothing is kept or when the children go to bed, the court might order that:

  • all future applications be heard by the same judge, or
  • John needs to get permission from the court before making any new applications.

Except for protection orders, which are enforced by the police, all orders can be enforced by the courts in different ways, depending on the order. The act sets out specific ways to enforce certain orders, like parenting time or contact orders. Other orders don’t have these specific ways set out in the act. For these orders, the act says that the court could make a person:

  • post a bond to guarantee that they’ll follow the order (to post a bond means to pay the court some money that you get back if you follow the order), or
  • pay a fine of up to $5,000 for not following the order.

If nothing else works, the court can enforce all orders except protection orders by sending the person to jail for up to 30 days for not following the order.

Our thanks to JP Boyd for providing the background for this series. You can find more information on the new Family Law Act, as well as other family law issues, at his BC Family Law Resource Blog.