Pilot program seeks to streamline bail hearings

·1 min read

A way to speed up bail hearings is underway in northern B.C.

Rather than going through the process of being transported to Prince George for a hearing, people in police custody in outlying communities will be able to take in their hearings from their respective RCMP detachments under a pilot program launched on April 16.

Videoconferencing equipment is now in place at the detachments in Prince George, Quesnel, Burns Lake, Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, Kitimat and New Hazelton while those in custody at other detachments will be able to take part by phone.

The move follows on increased use of videos and phones in the courts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it stood, if someone was arrested on a Monday in a small northern B.C. community where the provincial court convened only on Thursdays, and police did not agree to their release, they would have to be transported to Prince George to appear in court. And if they were released, they could find themselves stuck in Prince George with no way to get back home.

Even if that person was in custody on the day court was in session, the judge would still have had to interrupt the trials scheduled for that day to conduct the bail hearing.

"The resulting loss of court time might prevent a scheduled trial from finishing. Adjourning that trial would cause the litigants and their witnesses inconvenience and expense," B.C. Provincial Court said in a posting.

The project will be evaluated through 30, 60, and 90 day reviews to determine whether to extend it to additional locations.

Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen