Long distance court appearances are possible
Witnesses and litigants in civil proceedings can now make video appearances in courts hundreds of kilometres away, thanks to new technologies that have been introduced in the Vancouver and Prince George Supreme Courts.
Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh is a strong supporter of the project. “Previously, cases involving litigants or witnesses in different locations resulted in expensive travel costs, delays and difficulties trying to arrange court dates when all parties could be present,” Dosanjh said.
“With this new technology, people in different parts of the province will be able to participate in a hearing as if they were in the same courtroom. There is tremendous potential here for bringing about faster resolution of disputes, improving flexibility and efficiency in court scheduling, shortening the waiting period for court dates, and reducing the expense to both litigants and the court system.”
Video conferencing equipment has been installed at Courtroom 71 in Vancouver and Courtroom 310 at Prince George Courthouse, at a cost of $75,000 per site, plus the cost of wiring, telephone lines and fax machines. These two courtrooms are now accessible from 45 public and private video conferencing sites throughout the province. Video conferencing will be used for civil proceedings, including civil chamber applications, case management conferences, examination of witnesses, obtaining provisional orders under the Divorce Act, and family maintenance/variation applications. Orientation and training sessions have been organized for staff, judiciary and lawyers.
In addition, a camera has been set up in the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre to allow remands to be done by video conferencing.
Recent amendments to the Criminal Code permit remands and bail to be done by video conferencing. Wider use of video conferencing for criminal matters is likely to take place once issues relating to the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms have been resolved.
Chief Justice Bryan Williams said, “This initiative will greatly help to reduce the time and cost of litigation in our courts throughout the province. I look forward to seeing the results of these initial installations, to see whether expansion of video conferencing technology is justified elsewhere in the province. Improved access to justice is a goal we all want to promote, and video conferencing appears to be a useful tool in accomplishing that.”
A judicial steering committee has led the project, and recommended a phased approach to implementation. The logical first locations were the highest volume courthouse in the province and a high-volume courthouse outside the Lower Mainland.
Dosanjh said the current video conferencing sites will be monitored and evaluated during the next six months to assess the benefits to the courts, litigants and the public. He indicated he is looking forward to the results of the evaluation and the expansion of in-court video conferencing to other sites.
Early reaction to the use of video conferencing in BC’s judicial system has been positive. The technology appears to be especially well suited to a large province such as British Columbia. By simultaneously furthering the goals of increased access to and improved efficiency of BC’s courts, the initiative shows great promise.
Video conferencing has already been used in the Manitoba, Ontario and Alberta justice systems, primarily for custody bail and remand matters. In addition, Manitoba has been using video conferencing for civil matters for some time.
This article was published in the August 1998 issue of BarTalk. © 1998 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.