Provincial Court delivers openness and accountability in its 2015/16 Annual Report

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The Provincial Court of BC is committed to accountability, openness and transparency. One of the ways it fulfills this commitment is by issuing yearly reports to the public on its work. The Court’s 2015/16 Annual Report - providing information on the Court’s innovative initiatives, caseload statistics and trends, judicial demographics, governance, budget, and complaints – is now available. In this eNews Provincial Court Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree outlines some of the report’s highlights.

In his introductory message Chief Judge Crabtree announced:

“This report describes the ongoing efforts of the Provincial Court of British Columbia and its judicial officers and staff to deliver an accessible, fair, efficient, and innovative forum of justice for British Columbians, during the fiscal year 2015/16.

A significant accomplishment in this fiscal year was the successful implementation of the Provincial Court Scheduling Project, a major undertaking designed to enhance the efficient, effective and equitable use of judicial resources. Project components, including simplified front end case management, expanded authority of Judicial Case Managers, Assignment Courts, and delayed assignment of Judges, rapidly began to show some noticeable benefits. The Office of the Chief Judge will continue to monitor and evaluate the project’s reforms, and changes will be made as necessary. I wish to acknowledge Associate Chief Judge Nancy Phillips whose vison and leadership were integral to the project’s success.”

Other areas of innovation highlighted in the report are expanded use of video technology to save 29,505 transports for prisoners required to appear in court for preliminary matters; the Court’s intern program for Allard Law School students; and the Court’s website (with a 12% increase in traffic over the preceding year), weekly eNews articles, and active Twitter account. Specialized courts continued to help addicted and mentally ill offenders address their problems, and the Chief Judge spent considerable time with First Nation communities discussing their interest in adding to the province’s First Nation courts.

Caseload management
In 2015/16 almost 200,000 new cases of all types were filed in BC’s Provincial Court. With a 2% increase over the previous year, this was the second year in a row in which caseload volume increased. Looking at the breakdown by subject matter, the number of new adult criminal and child protection cases increased while other subject areas decreased. From a regional perspective, the Fraser Region continued to see the highest volume of new cases, while the Vancouver Region continued its slight but steady decline of the past five years.
Chief Judge Crabtree commented,

“I am pleased to report that there was improvement in the Court’s ability to offer trials in a timely manner in 2015/16. The number of cases adjourned due to lack of court time and the average delay for most types of trials decreased. Although factors like the number and complexity of new cases are beyond our control, we will continue to work to reduce times to trial.”

He also noted,

“There was a 4% increase in the number of court appearances by self-represented litigants in this fiscal year, reversing a previous (downward) trend. The Court continues to work to assist people appearing without lawyers by providing helpful resources for the public on its website, and providing Judges with resources to help them deal effectively with self-represented litigants.”

Judicial complement

The Court’s judicial complement (the number of Judges) remained almost constant in this fiscal year. Fifteen new Judges were appointed, but eight Judges elected to work part time in the Senior Judges Program and nine retired. Chief Judge Crabtree noted, “Sadly, the Court also lost two exceptional judges in 2015 when Judge Anne Wallace of Kelowna and Judge Russell Mackay of Chilliwack passed away in October and December respectively. Both are sorely missed for the uncommon energy, positive attitudes, compassion, and good humour they shared.”

The average daily number of full-time equivalent Judges (the number of Judges adjusted to reflect the part-time work done by Senior Judges) was 124.49, the second lowest in the last five fiscal years. Appointments of male and female judges in the last 36 months were almost even, and most judges were aged between 51 and 65, with an overall average and median age of 60.

Chief Judge Crabtree noted the importance of an open and accountable complaint process,

“Transparent and open access to the Court and its judicial officers is crucial to maintain confidence in the judiciary. Judges are accountable through appeals of their decisions to higher courts and through disciplinary processes under the Provincial Court Act. In this report I share the results of investigations of complaints about Judges and Judicial Justices made in 2015. When litigants’ concerns are brought to my attention they serve as valuable corrective and learning opportunities for the judicial officers involved and for me. They can also indicate areas where Court-wide judicial education would be helpful.”

Volunteer contributions
The Chief Judge concluded,

“I am proud of the large number of Judges and other judicial officers who volunteer considerable portions of their own time to serve on Court committees and justice-related organizations, contribute to the education of their colleagues, and volunteer in their own communities. A few of them have been featured in eNews articles but there are many, many more whose contributions are unsung. The Court’s Judges, Judicial Justices and staff are dedicated to public service and committed to delivering justice in more than 80 Provincial Court locations around British Columbia. Each year my appreciation for their hard work, commitment and dedication grows.”

Learn more, including details on judicial demographics, operational standards, caseload, time to trial, pending cases, methodology for reporting cases, governance, court committees, and a financial report, in the BC Provincial Court’s 2015/16 Annual Report.