The Magistrates or Provincial Court of British Columbia has existed in one form or another since the early fur trading days. In 1867, the British North America Act created the new nation of Canada. The Act gave power to the provinces to create their own courts. At this time magistrate courts existed but with a very limited jurisdiction. Magistrates were often part-time and rarely had any formal training in the law. They were not well paid and were treated as employees of the government.
County Court was first created in 1884. There are currently ten Judicial Counties in BC: Vancouver, Westminster, Cariboo, Prince Rupert, Victoria, East Kootenay, West Kootenay, Atlin, Yale and Nanaimo. Surrey is within the Westminster County and all Superior Court trials occur in the New Westminster Court House.
At the turn of the century the population of Surrey was less than 5000. The settlers were scattered but everyone looked out for one another and each was aware of strangers moving through their community. Law enforcement could be requested from New Westminster if needed. That community's first jail was established in 1860 but closed in 1885.
In 1885 a new gaol was built in New Westminster and was a more secure structure of stone and brick. The building was a three storey structure located outside the core of the city, with a capacity for 156 inmates (77 cells, including accommodation for 12 women. Corrections in British Columbia: Pre-Confederation to the Millennium.
Edited by Brian Mason. 2003 Justice Institute of BC
In 1878, the Government of Canada opened the British Columbia Penitentiary, "BC Pen" or simply "the Pen" as it was known in old days. It was located between the Sapperton neighbourhood and Queen's Park. It was the Gaol Block Building also known as the Main Hall of the British Columbia Penitentiary that opened in 1878 with little fanfare and just 23 occupants. It housed maximum security prisoners and operated for an amazing 102 years but was phased out by the Federal Government in favor of smaller federal institutions deemed more modern. It closed in 1980.
With the opening of the New Westminster Rail and Road Bridge in 1904 came a growth in crime and road incidents resulting in the appointment of a Magistrate. John Churchland, who owned the general store in Surrey Centre, served as Magistrate from July 1907 to April 1910. He was followed by Henry Bose, a Surrey Centre farmer, from 1911 to 1915. He, in turn, was succeeded by John S. Clute who served until 1924. Mr. Clute was replaced by Henry Bose when he was not able to return to the position, and Magistrate Bose's position became a permanent one.
John Churchland, who owned the general store in Surrey Centre, served as Magistrate from July 1907 to April 1910.
The Magistrate is constantly before the public. The smallness of the police force which we can allow to carry out his decisions and to preserve tranquility compels him to rely much on his personal influence.
Magistrate-Judge: The Story of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Alfred Watts p10
British Columbia passed a Juvenile Court Act in 1910.
Henry Bose took an active part in Municipal and Community affairs. He served as a Councilor on Surrey Council for Ward 1 in 1904, and was Reeve of the Municipality from 1905 to 1909. In 1911 he was appointed Magistrate and held that position until 1946, 35 years. After 1946, he still held the appointment and was called upon when needed.
In 1912, the Provincial Government established its first prison farm when Oakalla, in Burnaby, opened. Provincial offenders were incarcerated here. In 1916 a woman's section opened at the Oakalla Prison Farm.
Fabian Hugh had been a Notary Public in Ontario and he received his Notary Public Seal for the Province of BC on March 17, 1919. Fabian assumed the duties of Secretary-Collector for the District of Surrey in 1921. Fabian Hugh became a Court Magistrate in 1946 assisting Magistrate Henry Bose.
Fabian Hugh became a Magistrate in 1946 assisting Magistrate Henry Bose.
He worked on a part time basis with Juvenile Court work and Magistrates duties.
These grew to become full duties.
Fabian Hugh had been appointed a Magistrate and Justice of the Peace on a full time basis and as a result had to resign from his Real Estate and Insurance firm in 1954.
(see Hugh and McKinnon).
Fabian Hugh was a judge of the Juvenile Court, and established the Family Court for Surrey, as well as being a magistrate.
This picture and the following quotation was part of an ad in the Surrey Leader congratulating Mr. Hugh on his years as a Public Notary. Fabian Hugh was a police magistrate and was on the bench here in Surrey for twelve years. While retiring from active duty in 1957, he still holds the appointment and is called on to take court when needed.
Congratulations on fifty years as a notary public are being received this week by Mr. Fabian Hugh of Cloverdale. Official congratulations have been extended on behalf of the Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia, with the wish that he will continue his active membership for many years to come. Mr. Hugh was active for many years in insurance, real estate and notary public work in Surrey and White Rock and was principal of Hugh & McKinnon Ltd., Cloverdale.
By 1948 the war had been over for three years, the Law Faculty at UBC had graduated its first class.
Great changes were taking place in the penal system and society generally was beginning to question previously acceptable standards in practically every area including justice.
The Magistrates Courts of the Province were comparatively ill prepared for the onslaught of change.
While a few of the larger urban centres enjoyed the advantage of legally-trained Magistrates, this was not so for the bulk of the Province.
Magistrate–Judge: The Story of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Alfred Watts p25
John Hunter was appointed magistrate in 1950. He succeeded Fabian Hugh as magistrate in 1957 when Mr. Hugh retired.
For the first sixty years the Magistrates Court shared the facilities with the local police in the basement of the 1912 Municipal Hall. With the take over of Policing duties in 1951, RCMP Commissioner Norman Inkster described the shared accommodation.
Conditions were less than glamorous in the police station first used by the RCMP in Surrey. Headquarters consisted of an office 12 X 15 feet. It was adjoined by four cells with two bunks each. But only three cells were used because the fourth served as a storage area for exhibits. The Chief's office which contained a small desk, was entirely filled when the chief was at his desk and a visitor was being interviewed. The door couldn't be opened except with some difficulty.
The Magistrate's office was a small cubbyhole immediately behind the chief's office and I know this sounds improbable, even smaller that the chiefs.
The place was also extremely cold in the winter despite efforts of the municipal engineers to make the office more comfortable.
RCMP Commissioner Norman Inkster at the opening of the Surrey Police Headquarters in October 1990.
Probably a more serious problem then the shared accommodation was the inevitably close association in many instances between the police, who did most of the prosecuting, and the Magistrate. The Police prosecutor, through his knowledge of the Code and relevant Acts, was just about the only resource immediately available to advise the Magistrate on the law and on sentencing which tended to give the prosecution a bit of an edge. Furthermore, the policeman prosecutor could have problems with objectivity, he having quite possibly originally investigated the complaint, arrested the accused, and laid the information and in due course being available to give evidence. When this situation was combined with the fact that both the Judge and the Officer were members of their own little community, bent on keeping law and order, it could, and on occasion no doubt did, result in a bad arrangement.
"On one occasion a Magistrate, observing the prosecuting constable holding out three fingers, sentenced the accused to three months whereupon the Corporal, also in Court, burst out 'No, no Your Worship, he meant $300.00.'"
Magistrate–Judge: The Story of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Alfred Watts p30
The combination of an untutored lay Judge, in many instances hearing very few cases plus the policeman prosecutor seriously disadvantaged members of the public who had to seek justice from those sources. While the District Judge system had gone a long way toward solving many of the problems, the fact remained that when the lay Judge was in Court and doing his own thing he could not be interfered with.
In 1952, the Fraser Valley Bar Association proposed; that appointees to the position of Police Magistrates and Judges of Small Debts Court should be duly qualified Barristers and Solicitors. This proposal, however, was not put into effect by the Provincial Government until 1969.
In 1955, changes to the Criminal Code made criminal matters more demanding for judicial officers who were not legally trained. Provincial legislation also required Magistrates to travel from one jurisdiction to another, presiding over multiple court districts. Family and civil legislation had also grown more complex. In all aspects of its jurisdiction, the Court was evolving and growing, requiring increased levels of legal training, judicial education and professional qualifications.
One of the first appointments as a result of the growing need for legally trained judges was a local Surrey barrister G. W. Bruce Fraser
White Rock barrister, G. W. Bruce Fraser, was sworn in as Judge for the County of Westminster, at a ceremony in the Royal City, on Thursday, February 16, 1956. He replaces Judge Harry Sullivan, who has been appointed to BC Supreme Court. Judge Fraser has resided in White Rock since 1947 when he came to this resort town to find an office, as he puts it. Following the Second World War he found office space practically unobtainable in Vancouver. I expected the move to be temporary, at most a year, but I loved it so here I stayed and stayed. I hope to continue living here, he said. Born in Ottawa Bruce Fraser came west with his family in 1912. He attended King George and King Edward High Schools in Vancouver and graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1922. He was called to the Bar in 1926.
Judge Fraser's office on Vidal Street is being taken over by Ken Thompson, local barrister. Ken Thompson also succeeded Judge Fraser as Surrey's Municipal Solicitor in 1956. Following White Rock's secession from Surrey, he resigned.
The Semiahmoo Sun Feb, 23, 1956: G. W. Bruce Fraser sworn in as a Judge of BC County Court.
Ken Thompson bought Fraser's office and the firm of Thompson, Wilson, Baker and later Steel acted as the legal counsel for Surrey and White Rock for the next thirty years.
Among others, the following Surrey Lawyers, over the years, have been appointed to the bench as Provincial Court Judges are; Phil Govan, Ed Scarlett, Norm Collingwood, Glen Baker, and Howie Thomas. Bruce Fraser and Ron McKinnon were two local lawyers appointed to the Superior Courts.
In 1957 Haney Correctional Institution opened its doors for Provincial offenders.
In 1973 British Columbia relied on the services of approximately 100 lay provincial court judges, who sat outside the larger urban centres. However, by the end of 1976, the system of lay magistrates was disbanded and replaced by legally trained judges. Itinerant or circuit judges served isolated areas. This ended a long-established system of resident-exemplary citizens resolving social conflict. By 1980, lay magistrates were phased out in every province except Newfoundland.
John Hunter and Lloyd Steele were the last of the lay magistrates in Surrey. John Churchland, J. Clute, Henry Bose and Fabian Hugh had all preceded them as lay magistrates.
With the retirement of John Hunter, Harold Keenlyside of Hazelmere, a lawyer who had been deputy magistrate for a number of years became magistrate at this time. Later he became a Judge.
The history of the office facilities supplied to the Courts and to the Police in Surrey is interconnected. Up to 1951 the whole Municipal government including the police, court staff, cells and Municipal staff were housed in the Municipal Hall built in 1912. In 1951 a contract was entered into with the Federal Government for the RCMP to assume the policing of the municipality.
The first RCMP detachment started with 8 men, two cars, and no clerical staff. Shortly thereafter one steno was hired, and with the growth of the municipality more men were added year by year. Space in the municipal hall soon ran out and quarters were rented in a two storey, former laundry building on Maine Street, near the fairgrounds.
(See Surrey Police History)
This rented facility was most inadequate, as there was insufficient space for cells, office staff and a courtroom. To accommodate the court services, court was held in the museum building on the fairgrounds, and cell space in the municipal hall had to be utilized along with the one cell provided in the police building.
Surrey magistrate's court is being moved from the municipal hall building to new quarters in the Surrey Museum on the exhibition grounds.
Wednesday, while the court records were being moved, police court was held in the municipal council chamber.
The court expects to be in its new, and roomier, quarters by Friday.
The Columbian: June 27, 1964. Surrey museum is divided into the old section which was Surrey's original municipal hall built in 1881, and today houses early home and farm equipment. The new section, built as a Centennial project in 1958, acted as Surrey Court House until 1963. Two connecting halls are photo galleries.
Relief of the overcrowded conditions did not come until the opening, in 1963, of the New Municipal Hall, on Highway 10 near King George Highway. After certain renovations were made to the 1912 hall and its annex, the police and courts' staff moved into the old hall in June of 1963. With the growth in demand for court and police services this building soon became inadequate.
Surrey will have a Juvenile and Family Court this fall. The Attorney-general's department notified the municipal council Monday that such a court would be set up after studies to begin Oct. 1. Magistrate H.S. Keenlyside will be appointed Juvenile Court Judge, with an increment of $200 per month additional for handling the job. Deputy magistrate, John Hunter, will be deputy judge. Keenlyside will be Judge of the Juvenile Court and also Judge of the Family Court.
The department announced its intention of enlarging the probation service in Surrey, which now uses the juvenile officer in New Westminster. Vancouver's probation officer, E.G.B. Stevens, will survey the situation with a view to having one of the probation officers operate 50 percent of the time in Surrey.
The Columbian: Aug 25, 1959, Family Court slated for Surrey this fall.
By the 1960s there were three courts held in Surrey for the administration of justice. These were the Magistrate's Court, the Family Court and the Juvenile Court. Senior magistrate was Magistrate John Hunter. He presides at the Magistrate's Court and was Deputy Judge of Juvenile and Family Courts. Magistrate H. Keenlyside was the deputy magistrate of Magistrate's Court and the Judge of the Family and Juvenile Courts. Ernie Alp is the clerk of the Family Court and advisor on family problems.
From 1952 there was a continuous programme directed to the enhancement of the Probation service, it being generally Province–wide by 1968. There were problems in the early days of probation to educate the Magistrates on the desirability of pre-sentence reports.
Those years also saw a steady development of statutory law designed to offer more protection to women and children culminating in the Family and Children's Court Act, 1963, providing for one court for the whole Province, the Magistrate exercising powers including those under the Juvenile Court Act, Protection of Children Act, Industrial School for Boys Act, Industrial School for Girls Act, Wives and Children Maintenance Act, Children of Unmarried Parents Act, Parent Maintenance Act, Family Assaults under the Criminal Code and the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders. The general effect was a close liaison of the Court with Probation Officers and Social Workers and the major thrust to avoid confrontation in court between husband and wife and, if possible, to keep the juvenile out of court altogether.
Magistrate–Judge: The Story of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Alfred Watts pp48-49
In 1965 two new probation officers were placed in new Family and Children's Courts; one in the New Westminster Family and Children's Court, and one in the Surrey Family and Children's Court in Cloverdale.
In 1973, a Unified Family Court was experimented with. It operated in Surrey and Richmond but in the end proved unworkable. The Surrey office operated out of a rental space on 104th Avenue east of King George Highway.
The Provincial Court of British Columbia officially came into existence in 1969. It had its own Judicial Council, and was led by a Chief Judge, whose duty was to oversee the administration of the provincial judiciary and the criminal, family, and small claims matters that were under the jurisdiction of the new Court. No longer was the Court tied to the government and the Department of the Attorney General, and from this point on, the Provincial Court would function independently.
The establishment of the Provincial Court of British Columbia in 1969 brought significant changes to the whole court system. By that time there were some twenty-five legally trained Magistrates on the Lower Mainland instead of five as in 1953. The Chief Judge and the Judicial Council undertook judicial selection, education and discipline of the local Provincial Court Judges.
In that year, 1969, the Honourable Leslie R. Peterson described the necessary steps he planned in the organization and proper constitution of the Courts. He pointed out that 90 to 95 percent of Criminal matters were tried by Magistrates; that the majority of Family and Children's Court problems, and Small Debts Court were dealt with in the same judicial unit.
It is only fitting that these three courts which are basic to the administration of justice in the Province should be given the status commensurate with their responsibilities. In many places the same Judges handle all three types of work and it is now felt desirable, that these people should have their responsibilities organized under one court for these provincially appointed Judges.
The Judges were to be removed from any involvement with Municipalities. Their salaries are to be paid by the Province. There is to be a larger measure of supervision of the administration of this new court by its District Judges than is now the case for District Magistrates.
By the Provincial Court Act of 1969, which came into force August 1, 1969, the Provincial Court of British Columbia was an actuality.
The Act brought the related provisions of the Family and Children's Court Act and the Magistrates' Act under the Provincial Court of British Columbia, Family Division; the Small Debts Courts Act became the Small Claims Act, matters under the Act to be dealt with in the Provincial Court of British Columbia, Small Claims Division; all Judges were to have province-wide jurisdiction for the duties conferred or impose upon them; the court was to be a Court of Record; and the Judges were to have tenure subject to removal, after due process, for misbehavior or inability to perform their duties properly.
Magistrate–Judge: The Story of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Alfred Watts pp55-56
The new Provincial Judicial Council, along with the rapid growth of Surrey's population, was the impetus in recognizing the acute need for separate space for the RCMP and for Surrey Provincial Court. The facilities available in the old 1912 municipal hall and its annex were not adequate. As a result the District began the expansion of facilities for both of those services.
The Municipality constructed a new Provincial Court Building adjacent to the police headquarters in Cloverdale. The new building housed the Court's staff and Probation service. The court rooms enabled cases to be processed simultaneously in the adult, juvenile, and small debts classification. The Court House had up to five court rooms, including; a high security court room, administrative offices, court registry, probation officers and public washrooms. Detention cells were in the adjacent RCMP detachment building and prisoners were moved to a small holding cell attached to a court room through an underground tunnel that linked one building to another. As in the past, remand prisoners came from the BC Penitentiary, Oakalla, Matsqui, and Haney (Juvenile facility).
Surrey's new courthouse will be officially opened by Surrey Municipal Council. Special guest at their ceremony will be Hon. Leslie Peterson, Attorney general for British Columbia. The new building is adjacent to Surrey Police Headquarters in Cloverdale, but provides a separate building for the courts and the court officers.Surrey Leader, July, 1970.
Major William VanderZalm officially opened the New Justice Building, cutting the red ribbon. Sharing opening ceremonies was Alderman Mrs. Rita Johnston, while the dedication was given by Rev. Hubert Butcher of the Church of the Redeemer. Opening took place Monday afternoon.
The handsome interior of the new Justice Building in Cloverdale is shown in this photograph of Courtroom No. 1. District Judge Harold S. Keenlyside comments to the gathering that the separation of courts and police facilities is a great step forward in the administration of justice.
One of the first moves of the Task Force on Correctional Services and Facilities in March of 1974 was to transfer, where they existed, and the responsibilities for all prosecutions from the Municipalities to the Province. At the same time nine prosecutorial districts covering the whole Province were established, to be manned by legally trained prosecutors.
The Judicial System in British Columbia had changed as the Province was now divided into 12 districts.
South Fraser Valley from Sumas west to Richmond was one district under Judge Keenlyside as district judge. Six other judges assisted him.
By 1974 the Surrey Justice System included; a Community Corrections Regional Office, Family Court, Small Claims Court, Provincial Court, Crown Council, and Sheriff's Office. There were sixty-two barristers and solicitors practicing law in Surrey.
The Provincial Courts' civil jurisdiction steadily increased over the years. It was increased from $500 to $1000 in 1973, raised again in 1979 to $2000, and later to $3000. In 1991, the Small Claims Act and Rules came into force and introduced a simplified, plain-language process for litigants without a lawyer. A noteworthy feature was the provision for mandatory settlement conferences, which built elements of mediation into the Court's civil process for the first time. The Act also increased the Court's monetary jurisdiction in small claims matters to $10,000.
In 1972 the Law Reform Commission set out all the features a good court system should provide. First was the assumption by the Provincial Government of financial responsibility for the administration of justice throughout the Province thus paving the way toward a truly profession court with proper facilities and courtrooms.
In 1974, the new Provincial Court Act required that Judges must have five years membership in the Law Society, must be full-time and established tenure. This terminated all but three of the lay Judges in the Province.
By the 1975 Provincial Court Act the authority of the Judicial Council was confirmed. It allowed the Council to function on its own and not, as previously, at the request of the Attorney General. This separation of the Department and the Court had been a long time coming. The Provincial Court was, in fact, independent.
Magistrate–Judge: The Story of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Alfred Watts p68
As Court facilities were improved, so where those for the Police. Surrey's continued growth through out the 1960s increased the demand for Police services. As the number of Service Members grew the old 1912 building and its annex became inadequate. A concrete block building was added on the east side of the 1912 building. Construction of the building began in 1971 and it was completed in 1972 at a cost of $638,000. The detachment moved into the two–storey brick structure in May 1973. The building had structural problems from the outset. The building contained cement cell blocks in the centre and these settled at a different rate then the rest of the building. In 1975 concrete pillars were installed as a result of the shifting. In spite of this action, the building was still sinking. The sagging mid-section produced cracks in the inside walls nearly an inch wide and up to eight feet long, buckling ceiling tiles and walls, and floors which settled in a saucer-shaped curve.
RCMP CPL Len Grinnell, points to the office crack. Remarked one officer: She's gradually settling into the muskeg. The way it was going there was a possibility that, if it settled too much further, the main beams could crack and the upper floors could come down.
The building was also pulling down the east wall of the 1912 building that now housed the Cloverdale Library. The detachment vacated the building and set up temporary facilities. The administration, identification and traffic staff were in the old RCMP office next door. The general duty section was in four trailers in the parking lot. The general investigation section was on the second floor of the building across the street. The central registry was in the vehicle compound.
Repairs to the building were made with the installation of new concrete pillars and the RCMP etachment was able to reoccupy the facility. This building remained operational until the new RCMP headquarters was opened in 1990 as part of the City Government complex. The old building was demolished and is now the site of the Surrey Museum.
Judicial honorariums were set out in Schedule A of an Order in council of May 30, 1873, that no fees are allowed to Justices of the Peace out of Provincial Funds. This meant that Magistrates in country districts were only paid a fee by the government if the accused was convicted. If there was an acquittal he did not receive a fee at all. This fee structure placed considerable strain on the Bench.
This compensation situation continued until 1939 when an amendment to the Magistrates' Act provided that in unorganized territory, the Magistrates would be entitled to receive a fee of $2.50 win, lose or draw.
In organized areas such as Surrey, salary negotiation between the individual Judge with the political leaders of his municipality resulted in differing honorariums between Magistrates within a district and between districts.
The issue of compensation gained momentum with the growth of Magistrates' Conferences beginning in 1948 when it was suggested that: we are entitled to remuneration corresponding to the job we have as Magistrates. It would not offend the public or the public purse if a certain sum of money was allotted to them. Why shouldn't we be paid a decent honest figure for honorable work. Alfred Watts p81
The Province, in 1960, worked out an arrangement with Ottawa whereby Magistrates were to receive fees from the Province whether the matter was under the Criminal Code or Provincial Summary Conviction.
- For a guilty plea and sentence $3.00
- For a trial on a not guilty plea $5.00
- For a preliminary hearing $15.00
- All these were irrespective of the time spent; a three day preliminary hearing was still $15.00
The foregoing methods of reimbursement continued until the passage of the Provincial Court Act 1969 when the Provincial Government took over, as of April 1, 1969, the responsibility of paying all Magistrates and after August 1st, 1969, all Judges of the Provincial Court of British Columbia.
With the mixture of full-time and part-time Judges, some legally-trained, the majority not, and many sitting only occasionally, the matter of an even reimbursement for all Judges remained a difficulty. The problem was solved in 1975 with legislation providing that there be only full-time, legally-trained Judges for all Courts; Criminal, Juvenile and Family, and Small Claims, each Judge to receive the same honorarium.
Magistrate–Judge: The Story of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Alfred Watts pp79-83
In June 19, 1971, the first meeting was held to establish a Judges' Association to provide some organization for mutual protection and, at the same time, provide a facility to improve their judicial capabilities and their economic status. The association formed was called the Provincial Judges' Association of British Columbia.
The Association lead to: Seminars where papers, addresses and panels demonstrated that the Judges were intent on living up to the prime objective of improving their own capabilities; joining a national association of Judges which they did at the annual meeting of 1975; to establish a Code of Judicial Ethics; to bring about improvements in pensions and salaries; and establishing internal communication via a newsletter. Other items addressed by the Association were: to solve Administrative problems; express concerns about reporting of decision and appeals; solving the problem of a uniform system of gowning to establish a common attire for Judges; to establish a judicial library system for the profession.
Alfred Watts pp91–98
The British Columbia Law Library Foundation, now renamed the Court House Library Society, was formed in 1975. The purpose was to establish law libraries accessible to all members of the judicial family. There were three judicial directors on the Foundation Board representing the Court of Appeal, the Supreme and County Curt, and the Provincial Court. His Honour Judge P.E. Govan was the first Provincial Court representative. He was a sitting Judge for Surrey and White Rock at the time.
Some Magistrates, both lay and legally-trained, had the interest and money to buy books themselves; the late Magistrate Fabian Hugh of Cloverdale was one.
His Honour Judge Philip R. Govan, pioneered the library service for Provincial Court Judges, in 1975. He was the Provincial Court representative in the British Columbia Law Library Foundation. He was a active Provincial Court Judge in Surrey and White Rock at the time.
Local demands for improved Library services brought Surrey Council to a decision to use the Provincial Court building as an expanded library. Plans were already being made to create a new justice complex as part of the Municipal complex at Highway 10 and King George Highway.
This picture shows those current businesses in the 1987 court house building.
The Leader: July 22, 1987, New courthouse opens August 4.
Surrey's new provincial courthouse is almost ready for occupancy. Court will begin sitting in the new building at 17850 – 56th Avenue on Tuesday, August 4. The final day of sittings in the old courthouse Cloverdale will be Friday, July 31, 1987. Surrey's new courthouse will open early next month. The new building is located about three blocks from the existing courthouse in Cloverdale at 17850 - 56th Avenue, just across the street from Cloverdale Elementary.
The new courthouse will have five criminal courtrooms and one traffic court. Court staff will spend the weekend of August 1 to 3 moving records and equipment, and court will sit in the new building for the first time Tuesday, August 4th, 1987. Provincial Court will continue to function from the old building until Friday, July 31. The new building was built specifically for use as a courthouse, even through the courts may not occupy it for long. Long–range plans call for a court house adjacent to the municipal hall, in conjunction with a proposed remand centre and a police station.
After the court staff has moved from the old courthouse, it will be renovated in order to turn it into the Cloverdale branch of the Surrey Public Library. The library will move from the old municipal hall, located just south of the current courthouse. The vacated library would re-open as a seniors' centre in the spring of early 1988.
In December 1987 and January 1988, a riot and mass escape highlighted the need to replace Oakalla and other aging facilities. The Drost Inquiry Report addressed issues arising from these incidents and called for the facility to be closed. The report highlighted the overcrowded conditions, dilapidated state and antiquated security of Oakalla to emphasize that a replacement was urgently needed.
As a result of commitments, most of the secure institutions were replaced through the 1990s. Two community correctional centres were also replaced. Most of the planned new centres focused on housing remanded and higher risk offenders. Lower risk offenders were to be released into the community as soon as possible. The closure of several community correctional facilities and camps resulted from reduced numbers of offenders suitable for these levels of custody.
By early 1990, construction of Fraser Regional Correctional Centre (FRCC),the second of the Oakalla replacement facilities, neared completion. FRCC, located in Maple Ridge, officially opened with a capacity of 254 beds for sentenced offenders. In July 1990, Surrey Pre trial Services Centre (SPSC), the last of the replacement centres for the men's Oakalla facility, opened with a capacity of 150 beds in May 1991.
An official ceremony closed Oakalla prison in July 1991. Following this Oakalla was finally demolished in early 1992. Townhouse, condominiums and park land now occupy the site. While Oakalla had the capacity to house more than 600 men, the three replacement facilities had a combined capacity of only 554.
Corrections in British Columbia: Pre-Confederation to the Millennium. Edited by Brian Mason. 2003 Justice Institute of BC.
The Editorial Board of the Surrey Leader saw the need for the new remand centre in Surrey.
Surrey Leader: Feb 18, Surrey remand Centre makes sense.
With the shutdown of Oakalla in Burnaby, set for 1991, new facilities are needed for the men's (set for Maple Ridge), women's and youth's jails as well as for a remand centre to keep those who are waiting or in the midst of a trial. New corrections facilities are also under construction in other areas of the province, such as Kamloops and Victoria. Surrey has the second busiest courthouse in the province, just ahead of Burnaby. Vancouver is the busiest and already has a 150 bed pre-trial facility nearby. Burnaby is being suggested as the home for the women's prison facilities, making Surrey a strong candidate for the remand centre.
In 1991, the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre opened the first such unit, which was jointly developed and funded by the Corrections Branch, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Alcohol and Drug Programs, Mental Health and Social Services. The unit provided screening, assessment, intervention and case management. Its focus was on post-release planning to help MDOs reintegrate into the community.
In 1991, Surrey's Pretrial Services Centre opened as part of the Justice Complex being built along side the Municipal Hall complex.
During the 1990s the institutional inmate counts rose continually. The number of offenders serving jail sentences grew at the same rate as the general population in the province (12%). By 1993 the pressure became acute. The count at the Vancouver Pretrial Services Centre (VPSC) resulted in the transfer of inmates from VPSC to Surrey Pretrial Services Centre. SPSC counts averaged slightly above (155 with 150 available beds). Once maximum bed capacity was reached, double-bunking became the only option. Additional beds were installed and in January 1994, 36 cells at SPSC received extra beds, increasing the institution's capacity from 150 to 186. In 1994, the Corrections Branch instituted a double-bunking policy.
Provincial Court deals with over 90% of the Provinces' cases. Family and Juvenile Court matters are heard in Provincial Court. Divorce is a Supreme Court matter and if the custody or maintenance matters are not dealt with locally, the Supreme Court assumes jurisdiction. All Criminal matters begin in Provincial Court. Summary Offenses are dealt with in Provincial Court. Persons charged appear for arraignment (first appearance), and in indictable offenses (serious offenses) the accused has a choice of trial. Most choose trial by Provincial Court Judge to expedite the matter. The other choices are trial by Judge or Trial by Judge and Jury. If either of these are chosen there must be a preliminary hearing in Provincial Court to establish that enough evidence exists to warrant a higher court trial. In 1995 the absolute jurisdiction of a Provincial Court Judge for property offences under the Criminal Code increased from $1,000 to $5,000. In 1997, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was enacted and created a new regime for drug offences before the Court. Offenses under this act are prosecuted by special Federal prosecutors.
Prior to June 1st, 1990, there were three levels of trial court; Provincial Court, County Court, and Supreme Court. Surrey came within the jurisdiction of Westminster County and higher level trials were held in the New Westminster Court House. Most Trials by Judge were held in County Court, but the more serious indictable offenses and Trials by Jury were reserved for BC Supreme Court. On June 1st, 1990, County Court and Supreme Court merged and Trials by Judge, Trails by Judge and Jury, along with civil trials over $10,000 and divorce are now dealt with in Supreme Court which sits in New Westminster.
Magistrates or Traffic Court, in some jurisdictions, deals with prescribed offenses. These are offenses where the penalty is pre-determined, such as points against a driving record for motor vehicle offenses. Civil Court is a separate court at the Provincial level, and has a jurisdiction based on monetary values.
The Provincial Courts' civil jurisdiction steadily increased over the years. It was increased from $500 to $1000 in 1973, raised again in 1979 to $2000, and later to $3000. In 1991, the Small Claims Act and Rules came into force and introduced a simplified, plain-language process for litigants without a lawyer. A noteworthy feature was the provision for mandatory settlement conferences which built elements of mediation into the Court's civil process for the first time. The Act also increased the Court's monetary jurisdiction in small claims matters to $10,000.
The Peace Arch News: May 8, 1991. Ceremony opens new courthouse; A technological feat. By Mary Babic.
Surrey's new $27 million courthouse opened April 30th, 1991. The 12–courtroom courthouse complex was officially opened Tuesday by Premier Rita Johnston and Attorney General Russ Fraser. It has skylights, wide open spaces and picture windows with views of Mount Baker on a clear day. Court manager Steve Andrews considers the highly sophisticated security system the most outstanding feature of the courthouse. "This particular courthouse is at the cutting edge of technology in terms of security for courthouses." He said.
A computerized control centre is able to monitor the entire holding area, the tunnel connections to the remand centre and RCMP building, and various other sensitive areas. The system includes monitoring by 40 closed circuit cameras. As in the police building and remand centre, staff will carry computer-sensitive access cards which will allow them entry to various secured areas.
Grant and Sinclair Architects of Vancouver designed the five-story, 11,200 square meter complex (120,000 square foot). The firm also designed the nearby RCMP headquarters. The courthouse is a part of a Justice Centre which includes a $10 million police headquarters and a $40.5 million remand centre set to open tomorrow (May 9, 1991).
The courthouse is linked with the RCMP building and the remand centre by tunnels and the three buildings share a common sally port for delivery of persons in custody. Seven courtrooms on the first floor handle criminal matters and five on the third floor are for civil litigation. One courtroom can be modified for Supreme Court jury trials. "We have a portable prisoner's box which can be wheeled out to meet Supreme Court standards." Andrew said. In Supreme Court, the prisoner's box is located in the middle of the courtroom in front of the judge and in full view of the jurors. The complex also contains a traffic hearing room and two small claims settlement rooms. In addition, the courthouse has a classroom. The Public Education Society is available to provide educational information to various groups, including Grade 11 and 12 law students, multicultural groups and other complex interested parties. A law library, which is open to lawyers on a 24 hours basis seven days a week, is also open to the public during regular business hours.
Construction on the courthouse began in 1988. It was completed February 1991 and court services began operating on April 1, 1991. According to the attorney general's office, the courthouse is the second largest in the province. Future plans for the complex include expansion to 26 courtrooms. Andrews said the courthouse should be adequate to handle the case load for the next 10 years.
In 1992, the South Fraser Judicial District had seventeen or eighteen full time Provincial Judges. The number was based on the work load and if it increased Judges could be brought in from other jurisdictions to assist. South Fraser Judges could also be called on to assist in other jurisdictions around the Province.
In 1992 the South Fraser Judicial District had court houses in Richmond, Delta, Surrey, White Rock, Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Hope and Mission. Norm Collingwood was the administrative judge and he would assign Judges to Court Rooms through out the District. Assignments covered Family and Juvenile as well as Criminal jurisdictions.
By 2000, many of the smaller courts had closed. Those included Delta, White Rock, Langley, and Mission. Those that remained open were Richmond, Surrey, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Haney (Haney replaced Mission). Judges were usually assigned the to same Court House, but the Court Room assignment could vary at the discretion of the Administrative Judge. There was a great deal of flexibility in the assignment of Judges.
In 2007, the South Fraser Judicial District had twenty-seven full time Provincial Judges and four part-time Provincial Judges. Their daily assignment and work load is set out by the Administrative Judge and covers all the Court Houses and Court Rooms in the Lower Fraser Valley. Surrey might have fifteen to seventeen sitting judges in any given week.
Judges are assigned to a particular Court or Court Room by the Administrative Judge. This assures that the accused or their lawyers cannot predict what Judge will be sitting on their particular case. Judges tend to specialize in particular fields of expertise, but can be expected to sit outside their area of preference. In Surrey Provincial Court, with so many judges and court rooms, this rotation of assignment can be done in house. In civil cases the judges are assigned by an administrative judge with jurisdiction for Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. The administrative judge sets each judge's agenda based on individual case load and court location.