Provincial Court launching pilot project to expand video conferencing in northern B.C.

DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – The Provincial Court of B.C. is looking to improve the bail process in the north by insta…

DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – The Provincial Court of B.C. is looking to improve the bail process in the north by installing more video technology.

The Northern Bail Pilot Project will be launched on April 19th to test a centralized bail hearing model in which hearings occur in virtual courtrooms through video conferencing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced courtrooms to hold bail hearings virtually by videoconference or audioconference over the last year. The pilot project is an extension of these efforts to
support further video installations in the north, according to the Provincial Court.

“In BC’s Northern Region, [bail hearings] have been conducted with the judge, accused person, and lawyers connected only by telephone, due to a lack of computers and equipment suitable for videoconferencing,” says the Court.

To increase access to justice, Microsoft Teams units have now been installed in seven RCMP Detachments across northern BC, including Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson.

“The project will evaluate the impact of installing these units so bail hearings from those locations can be conducted with all participants appearing by videoconference instead of telephone.”

The virtual bail hearings will be conducted in two virtual courtrooms: VR1 for matters from the Prince George and Cariboo catchments; VR2 for those from the Peace and Northwest catchments.

The judge will preside in the virtual courtroom. the accused will appear by video or audio conference from a video-equipped detachment or the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre.Duty counsel and Crown counsel will appear by Teams videoconference or audioconference from their office or other quiet, private space, says the Court.

The Court hopes the project completes the following objectives:

The Court will conduct 30,60, and 90 day reviews to determine if the project could be used long-term and if it should be extended to additional locations.

The Court is working with the provincial government, Legal Aid BC, defence counsel, BC Prosecution Service, Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and police on the project.

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