The Provincial Court of British Columbia reviews complaints to ensure that judges, justices of the peace and court case managers treat those who come into contact with the justice system through the court with respect.
The Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia received 230 complaints against judges, justices of the peace and case managers in 2020, the court annual report published on February 1 said.
Upon examination, 215 were found to be outside the authority of Chief Justice Melissa Gillespie.
Indeed, many amounted to appeals of a court decision and complainants were provided with appropriate information on appeals. Of the remainder, including complaints carried over from 2019, 10 complaint reviews were completed and resolved. No complaints were investigated.
Yet the report summarizes nine such cases, including the following:
In a criminal proceeding, a plaintiff claimed the judge engaged in “extended banter” with the defense attorney, made unsolicited suggestions and recommendations, and made inappropriate comments. The complainant believed that the judge was not taking the matter seriously.
The judge was questioned and the recording of the case confirmed that the comments had been made.
The judge apologized and regretted the way the plaintiff perceived them despite their intention,” the report said.
Comments raising concerns about bias
A judge told the complainant about a dispute the judge was having with another person. The complainant claimed the comments were inappropriate and raised concerns of bias. The judge apologized, saying their comments were inappropriate and should never have been made, and assured that the incident would not affect their conduct in court. The judge undertook a review of the Ethical Principles for Judges of the Canadian Judicial Council with respect to impartiality.
A plaintiff in a criminal hearing claimed a judge had been unreasonably aggressive towards him and his attorney who had appeared in a previous court case. The plaintiff also claimed the judge was “confrontational and derogatory” and led them out of the courtroom by a sheriff.
An audio recording confirmed that the judge made derogatory, sarcastic and condescending comments.
The judge apologized for their conduct and acknowledged that they have a responsibility as a judge to treat all who appear before them equally and respectfully.
A plaintiff in a small claims proceeding alleged that a judge ‘intimidated and threatened’ one of the parties, ‘refused to listen to her’ and ‘threatened’ her for speaking out of turn while the other party had received no such punishment for similar behavior.
The audio recording confirmed that all parties had an opportunity to make submissions and the judge asked both parties to refrain from interrupting.
The audio recording also indicated that the judge’s explanation of the proceedings had been misinterpreted as “bullying” behavior by the complainant. Although the audio recording confirmed that the judge acted calm at key points in the hearing, there were apparent moments when the judge showed his frustration with the complainant. The judge apologized for any time during the proceedings when he failed to show the appropriate level of courtesy.
The Provincial Court of British Columbia by the Numbers
Gillespie said the court has worked hard to ensure access to justice and the maintenance of the rule of law during the pandemic, a situation that has raised unique challenges.
As of March 31, 2021, the court had 124 full-time judges, 26 senior judges and one sitting part-time. Most judges are between 50 and 64 years old. Of the 55 judges appointed over the past five years, 29 were women.
The court heard 156,241 new cases of all types in 2020/21. This included 80,171 criminal, family and civil matters heard by judges (down 26% from 2019/20) and 76,070 traffic and administrative bylaw offenses heard by judicial judges (down 4%).
Of 501,183 total appearances in criminal, family and small claims cases, 385,130 used technology-assisted appearances. Such situations arise when at least one participant is attending remotely, by phone, or by Microsoft Teams conference.
The report says this technology has increased access to justice and enabled the court to effectively utilize judges during the pandemic.
“Clients and lawyers have been able to appear in court and attend conferences and hearings from their homes or offices. Holding bail hearings has virtually avoided moving defendants from their communities, saved them and sheriffs hours of travel to court, and allowed judges in small communities to complete trials without disruption. through bail hearings,” the report said.
The court oversaw a total of 60,923 unrepresented appearances in 2020/21, a decrease of 41% from the previous year.
The court’s total operating expenses for the period were $63.7 million, including $58.4 million in salaries and benefits.