Traffic Court

Gavel

Have you ever been traveling a long distance from home and received a traffic ticket that you felt you should dispute in court? Were you disappointed to learn that in order to dispute the allegation you would have to travel all the way back to the court nearest to the place where the ticket was written? Many drivers decide at this point that the issue is not worth pursuing, pay the ticket and carry on.

Recent changes to the Offence Act tell of a significant change on the horizon. The tentative step of allowing the enforcement officer to testify via video conferencing or telephone at some court locations in British Columbia will be extended to the prosecutor and the defendant in the near future. This will apply throughout the province as well.

I contacted the Ministry of the Attorney General for more information and learned that teleconferenced disputes will only be allowed for certain offences, or certain offences in certain circumstances. They were not able to tell me anything more as the system is still in development and many decisions have yet to be made ranging from which offences will be designated to how the public might access teleconferencing equipment.

It will be interesting to see if teleconferenced disputes will involve more than verbal presentation by any of the parties. How will one introduce photos, drawings or other physical evidence? Perhaps the prescribed circumstances will limit this.

The justice hearing the trial may be operating under the biggest disadvantage. I suspect that many cues they use to decide on how much weight to give to the evidence they are hearing come from being able to observe the person testifying. Disputes by telephone will remove the opportunity to "size up" both the prosecution and the defence.

Hopefully the initiative will provide the public with convenient access to court services that are delivered in a timely manner.

References:

Offence Act

15.2 (1) Despite section 60, but subject to the Rules of Court, a justice hearing the trial on a violation ticket may adopt procedures that are conducive to justly and expeditiously determining the matter.

(2) On a trial of a violation ticket, the prosecutor may appear and prosecute

(a) by video conferencing, if video conferencing equipment is available at the location of the Provincial Court where the trial is held, or

(b) by telephone.

(3) On a trial of a violation ticket for a prescribed offence, or for a prescribed offence in prescribed circumstances, the defendant may appear and defend

(a) by video conferencing, if video conferencing equipment is available at the location of the Provincial Court where the trial is held, or

(b) by telephone.

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