THE busiest Provincial Court location in the province is about to receive a $24.3-million expansion, paving the way for faster and smoother access to justice. The Province said his demonstrates its commitment to meeting the justice needs of B.C.’s communities.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton, along with Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Amrik Virk, on Thursday announced the addition of three courtrooms and two hearing rooms for the Surrey Courthouse, which has the largest criminal caseload in the province.
The project was identified as the top priority in the Lower Fraser Valley Regional Plan: Court Capacity Expansion Project released in February 2014 and will help to ease caseload pressures by providing additional space for cases to be heard.
The Province said that additional judges and staff will be required to staff the new courtrooms; however, it is too early at this stage to confirm the precise number of new positions. The actual number of judicial officers will be determined by the Lieutenant Governor in Council at a later date after consultations with the Chief Judge, as set out in the Provincial Court Act and the Justice Reform and Transparency Act.
The call for construction tender will go out in late 2015, with construction expected to begin in January 2016. The expansion is anticipated to be complete by late 2017.
Anton also announced the key outcome of the Surrey Criminal Justice Task Force — a recommendation for the creation of an Integrated Services Network to be led by the City of Surrey.
The network would be a single location for all agencies involved in the delivery of programs and services aimed at reducing crime in Surrey. The initial phase would establish an administrative centre for offices in the justice, health and social service sectors.
The Surrey Criminal Justice Task Force was convened in February 2014 by Anton and the City of Surrey to study persistent crime problems in the community and identify solutions.
Anton said: “Government recognizes the pressures on courthouse facilities resulting from the rapid growth of the lower Fraser Valley’s population. That’s why we are investing $24.3 million to add new courtrooms and hearing rooms to the Surrey courthouse. These improvements will help ensure timely access to justice for British Columbians by alleviating delays caused by caseload backlogs.
“We are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all British Columbians, in partnership with communities. Engaging with 33 stakeholders representing 18 organizations from the health, social service and justice sectors, the task force modelled the collaborative approach it is recommending, and ensured a grassroots, made-in-Surrey solution to the specific issues the community faces.”
Virk said: “Timely access to justice is a priority for our government. The courthouse expansion, along with the task force recommendations, will significantly help to improve public safety and access to justice in the years ahead.”
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said: “The Task Force’s recommendation of an Integrated Services Network in Surrey will help directly address the root causes of crime. This means that cases involving mental health, health and family matters, will be referred to timely support services. Ultimately, this will allow for a greater chance of success in reintegrating offenders into positive roles in society.”
Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree, Provincial Court of B.C., said: “I welcome the news of the proposed expansion to the Surrey Courthouse. This increase in capacity, coupled with additional judicial appointments to preside in the new courtrooms, will enhance the court’s ability to provide timely access to justice for the people of Surrey and the adjoining municipalities served by this facility.”
Surrey RCMP Chief Superintendent Bill Fordy said: “By working collectively with our local justice and community partners, we were able to develop solutions specific to some of our community’s needs. I believe that the recommendation of the task force is another positive step forward and that the Surrey courthouse expansion and the movement towards an Integrated Services Network will have positive impacts on public safety and reduce crime in our city.”