Those accused of crimes in Northern B.C. will no longer have to wait as long to see if they will be released on bail.
In the past, those arrested in small towns with few provincial court hearings would be forced to sit in jail while waiting for a bail hearing or be transported to Prince George. That will change in some areas on Monday, April 19.
The province is beginning a pilot program installing Microsoft Teams units in RCMP detachments in Burns Lake, Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, Kitimat, New Hazelton, Prince George and Quesnel.
Under provincial rules, if police wish to keep an accused person in custody, they must bring them in front of a judge for a hearing within 24 hours, but a bail hearing can be delayed for three days.
“Until last year, if the police did not agree to your release and you wanted a bail hearing before a judge, you would be held in custody while transport was arranged, then transported to Prince George to appear in court for the hearing,” a news bulletin from the provincial court website reads. “If you were released on bail, you’d find yourself in Prince George, far from home, perhaps with no way to get back.”
Now, if an accused person requires a bail hearing they will be able to attend court presided over by a judge in Prince George while still in custody inside a smaller RCMP detachment. Lawyers for the crown and duty counsel will appear from their own offices.
Duty counsel are legal aid lawyers who help with first appearances in court.
The bulletin notes the project aims to reduce wait times, prisoner transportations, interruptions to other trials and travel for police and lawyers, while increasing efficiency and access to duty counsel and Crown resources.
The court’s website states the project was worked on by Legal Aid BC, defence counsel, the BC Prosecution Service, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and police.
If successful, the project could be expanded across RCMP detachments in the provincial court’s northern region.
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