Traffic Court

GavelHave 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.

Update: March 2022

It is still up to the judicial justice presiding to decide if an appearance by video conference will be allowed or not.

Form PTR824 is used to request a hearing by video conference and here are the court instructions:

Process for Disputant and Officer (Prosecutor) - Request to Appear by Telephone or Videoconference Form

For violation tickets issued under the Motor Vehicle Act or Motor Vehicle Act Regulations, if the Disputant and/or the Officer wishes to appear remotely by telephone at the traffic ticket hearing, they may ask the Court for permission by completing and submitting a Request to

Appear by Telephone or Videoconference Form to the Violation Ticket Centre. Please note that remote appearances by the Disputant and/or Officer by MS Teams videoconference are only available for hearings scheduled at specifically designated court locations and sittings at this time. In addition:

1. Individual judges and justices retain their common law authority to make directions about the proceedings in their courtrooms, including the manner in which parties must appear before them. It is within the Court’s discretion to permit or deny a request to appear remotely at a traffic ticket hearing. It is also within the Court’s discretion to subsequently require the Disputant or the Officer to appear in person after initially permitting them to appear remotely. Some of the factors that the Court may consider in exercising its discretion include the “Request Details” noted on the Forms and whether it is in the interests of justice.

2. The Court will advise the Disputant and the Officer of their required method of appearance.

3. If the Disputant and/or the Officer is permitted by the Court to appear remotely at the traffic ticket hearing, they must read and abide by NP 21.

4. A Disputant’s failure to attend the hearing remotely or in-person as required and failure to remain available until the Disputant’s matter is concluded on the scheduled hearing date may result in the matter being deemed not disputed and a conviction being entered.

5. The Officer must be available and remain available until the hearing is called, spoken to and concluded.

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.

Q&A on virtual court hearings.

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