What’s new, what’s circuit, what’s closed
by Alice Finall
Members of the Bar will be interested to note the recent openings of new courthouses in Sechelt and in Richmond. The province and municipalities constructed the new courthouses in joint initiatives. Sechelt paid the cost of $2.9 million dollars and the province provided a 20-year lease. In Richmond, the province paid $1.5 million toward the total cost of $6.1 million dollars and agreed to a 10-year lease. Both facilities provide support offices and police accommodation in addition to other office space for various related services.
These announcements follow the closures of a number of courthouses in B.C. last year. The original proposal by the government to close courthouses at 24 locations around the province was met with consternation from both the legal profession and the provincial bench. After discussions between the Attorney General and a number of justice system stakeholders the proposed closing date of some courthouses was slightly delayed.
After further discussions between the province and municipal representatives, various communities agreed to assume responsibility for capital costs for buildings or land to allow the use of certain courthouses for circuit courts. In return, the province agreed to lease the facilities. In discussions with a provincial representative, it appears that the average annual rental cost to the province is $35,000, except for very small locations that are rented at a cost of $350 per sitting day. The following locations have circuit courts that are scheduling court hearings and appearances: 100 Mile House, Castelgar, Chase, Chetwynd, Creston, Hope, Houston, Princeton, and Vanderhoof.
The following circuit locations will commence when the schedules for the judiciary have been organized: Fernie, Grand Forks, Kitimat, Lillooet, and Revelstoke.
The following courthouses have been permanently closed:
- Burnaby – closed June 2, 2002
- Youth, family, small claims and traffic, now scheduled at the Vancouver, Robson Square location;
- Adult criminal, now scheduled at the Vancouver, Main Street location.
- Delta – closed November 1, 2002
- Youth, adult criminal, now scheduled at Richmond;
- Family, small claims and traffic, now scheduled at Surrey.
- Invermere (to Cranbrook), Merritt (to Kamloops), Squamish (to North Vancouver) – closed August 1, 2002.
- Kimberley (to Cranbrook), Lytton (to Kamloops), Maple Ridge (to Port Coquitlam), Oliver (to Penticton), Parksville (to Nanaimo) – closed June 1, 2002.
- Sidney was closed by the NDP government and remains empty apart from partial office occupation.
While the need for the province to reduce costs is not disputed, there remain strong concerns as to whether there has been any overall savings from the above closures. There is a further question with respect to the assumption of capital costs by various municipalities for permanent courts and circuit courts. Is it the responsibility of the province to provide access to justice, or should the municipal property owner be assuming that burden for the province as a whole?
Alice Finall is a sole practitioner in Sidney, B.C. She is Chair of the Court Services Committee and was previously an elected member of Provincial Council for Victoria.
This article was published in the April 2003 issue of BarTalk. © 2003 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.