Chief Judge and Attorney General discuss courthouse closures

Residents of Maple Ridge stage a protest on March 20 against the provincial government's plan to close the local courthouse, one of the busiest in the province. Local lawyers Gordon Kehler, Rob Germell and Michael Ritzker were among a number of speakers who addressed the gathering of 150 people, explaining the negative impact on local justice, policing and the youth diversion program. Photo compliments of the Maple Ridge News.

On April 19 the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, Carol Baird Ellan, and Attorney General Geoff Plant, QC laid the groundwork to discuss provincial courthouse closures and other issues.

A memorandum of understanding and protocol (www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/newsandreferences/newsreleases/index.html) recognize the respective roles of government and the judiciary and open the door to reconsidering the fate of some of the 24 courthouses now slated for closure. The MOU reflects an intention by the Attorney General and the Provincial Court to work cooperatively, to maintain reasonable and adequate access to the Court and to consider cost reductions, such as through the use of circuit courts and videoconferencing of some pre-trial appearances.

The Attorney General announced the decision to close the courthouses in a letter to the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court on January 17, 2002. The decision affected matters of judicial administration (including the assignment of judges, the sittings of the court, court lists, related matters of courtroom allocation and the provision for public access to the Provincial Court) and was made without the authority of the Provincial Court judiciary.

The Law Society began a constitutional challenge of the government decision to close courthouses in March. A hearing of the case, set for April 23, has been adjourned to May 6, with the agreement of all parties, in light of the new discussions.

For updates on this issue, see the Law Society website at www.lawsociety.bc.ca.