British Columbia

B.C. Supreme Court suspends operations as focus switches to 'urgent matters' including COVID-19 orders

The chief justice of B.C. Supreme Cout has suspended the courts regular operations in order to comply with public health guidelines and contain the spread of COVID-19.

Provincial court has also closed 4 locations, including Vancouver and Chilliwack courthouses

The B.C. Supreme Court has suspended operations for all matters set between March 19 and May 4. The Court of Appeal has also suspended matters. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson has suspended the court's regular operations in order to comply with public health guidelines and contain the spread of COVID-19.

The announcement applies to criminal, civil and family matters and comes on the heels of the closure of four provincial court locations in response to the threat of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. 

Hinkson has directed that all criminal matters previously scheduled to take place between March 19 and May 1 will be adjourned unless otherwise directed by the court.

The same applies to all civil and family cases during the same time period.

States of emergency

But the court still has an essential role to play in the maintenance of law and order in British Columbia, especially at a time when the provincial government has declared both a provincial state of emergency and a public health emergency.

In press conferences, provincial health officer Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have stressed that those declarations give them power to enforce orders related to self-isolation, quarantine and social distancing.

Vancouver's downtown community court has closed its doors along with the Vancouver provincial court because of COVID-19. (CBC News)

Practically, the court says that it will continue to hear urgent matters by telephone or video where available. And those matters include orders issued under the Quarantine Act and the Public Health Act.

They also include matters of urgent importance involving the refusal to accept treatment, housing evictions, civil restraining orders and urgent injunctions.

Hinkson said the court will also continue to hear urgent criminal matters by telephone, including bail hearings and applications for arrest warrants and search warrants.

As far as family matters are concerned, the court is also limiting its operations to urgent matters, including orders relating to the safety of children who are in harm's way, orders relating to the possible removal of children out of jurisdiction and essential medical decisions.

The court has also set up special online procedures to allow for applications in regards to online matters.

Contact with COVID-19

All levels of court in B.C. have been affected by COVID-19. The Court of Appeal has suspended all of its matters until at least May 4.

The situation at the provincial court level has been evolving rapidly. On Wednesday, the court announced the closure of both the Vancouver provincial court and Vancouver's downtown community court, which operate out of the same building.

The court said that a participant at the court had been in contact with an individual who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Courts in Nanaimo, Chilliwack and Campbell River have also been shut down for the same reason.

The provincial court had previously announced that judges would continue with trials or sentencing for accused who are being held in custody and any other urgent criminal matters.

Even so, provincial court locations around B.C. have been producing reduced court lists each day that reflect the reality of life in a province where offences like assault, sexual assault, identity theft and breaches of probation continue even as society struggles to cope with a global health crisis.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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