The use of high-definition videoconferencing technology is increasing court access in the communities of Fort St. James and Vanderhoof.
Videoconferencing is a unique option for these northern communities, which experience some of the highest circuit court volumes and most severe weather conditions in B.C. The service provides an alternative to in-person appearances for court matters, providing flexibility for police, witnesses, the accused and other parties who might otherwise have to travel considerable distances.
Using videoconferencing may reduce court delays associated with transporting prisoners for appearances in poor weather and other factors. Court access improvements help ensure important cases, including child protection matters and family disputes, are not subject to unnecessary delays.
When an RCMP member attends court in another community, it can mean a reduction in local policing. Enabling members to participate by videoconference minimizes police "away" time. The technology also helps cut down police time spent supervising Prince George Regional Correctional Centre prisoners transferred to local RCMP cells while they are waiting to appear in circuit court.
A court users' committee, the first of its kind for circuit courts, will help evaluate the project and suggest improvements. The committee includes the judiciary, RCMP, legal counsel, sheriffs, court services staff, Justice Education Society, the districts of Vanderhoof and Fort St. James and B.C. Corrections.
The cost of the project is $30,000. This includes network upgrades, installation and hardware.
A priority for the Province of British Columbia is to look for new ways to enhance our justice system. This is being done through innovation and reform, as well as adding new resources. Government continues to introduce new initiatives that take matters out of courtrooms, find efficiencies and increase capacity. With 14 new provincial court judges appointed over two years and the ongoing hiring of court administrators and sheriffs, government continues to invest critical resources in the justice system.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad -
"Videoconferencing will increase court access in the communities of Fort St. James and Vanderhoof and help reduce prisoner movement and travel time for witnesses and judges. The overall benefit will be the timely progress of cases."
Acting North District RCMP Superintendent Rod Booth -
"The RCMP fully support this collaborative initiative as we experience a direct benefit in the efficiency of our operations. This, in turn, has a ripple effect in enhancing positive relationships with the communities we serve."
Acting Mayor Brenda Gouglas, Fort St. James -
"I thank the minister and ministry staff for listening to our concerns and addressing them by enabling videoconferencing technology in our circuit court."
"Over time, I'm sure it will prove to be a tremendous benefit to the RCMP, court services staff, victims of crime and accused and will help ensure cases are managed in a more efficient, timely manner and are more cost effective for all involved."
Mayor Gerry Thiessen, Vanderhoof -
"The community of Vanderhoof is thankful the provincial government heard our concerns. We see this initiative as one more way to help maintain security in our area."
"We look forward to working with the users' committee to make sure that wait times for court appearances are kept to a minimum, with all charges being dealt with in a timely manner."
- The provincial courtroom videoconferencing network includes over 200 units in 45 courthouses and 14 correctional centres.
- Videoconferencing has accounted for a significant reduction in prisoner transportation to court since 2003, where there were 2,235 appearances representing 4.5 per cent of the total in-custody appearances. In 2010, that number has grown to 25,959 or 25.6 per cent of all in-custody appearances.
- Administrative hearings, where pre-trial preparations are made, account for the highest use of videoconferencing in B.C. courts.
To find a courthouse in B.C., go to:
Government Communications and Public Engagement
Ministry of Attorney General
250 387-4962 or 250 889-5945 (cell)