It's hoped a soon-to-launch "domestic violence court" in Kamloops will fast-track the justice process for families caught waiting for trial dates in emotionally charged circumstances.
The dedicated court will hold its first sitting in Kamloops provincial court Jan. 24. The special court will sit once a month after that.
Accused individuals who are charged with domestic violence, designated as "K" files within the system, will automatically see their trials scheduled for domestic violence court after first appearances are made. It's expected the cases will reach that court within 90 days.
Deputy Regional Crown Counsel Iain Currie said eight trials will be set for each of the days, with the expectation each of the trials will not last more than an hour. The Crown will only be allowed to call one witness per case on that day. If more witnesses need to be called in a trial, it will be adjourned to a different day to hear those witnesses.
The new Kamloops court will be modelled on a similar domestic violence court in Kelowna, which has been running for the past year.
Currie said statistics from Kelowna show that of 100 cases that appeared in domestic violence court over an eight-month period, only six went on to full trial and only three of those cases required an adjournment to another day. All the other cases ended in stays of proceedings, peace bonds or guilty pleas.
Kamloops defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen said the new system will speed up the justice process for families caught in what are often difficult circumstances.
In most cases, a domestic violence charge leads to one of the parties — usually the man — ordered to live somewhere other than the family home and have no contact with his family. As it stands now, it usually takes 12 to 18 months for a case to get to trial, meaning families suffer, economically as well as emotionally.
"The reality is these files don't move along as quickly as they are supposed to. It's not just the accused that is affected, it's their entire family, and sometime their businesses," he said.
Jensen said it's appropriate to impose conditions on people following allegations of domestic violence, but when people are made to live by onerous restrictions for months, there is a risk they will become frustrated and breach the conditions, leading to more charges.
He added the new system recognizes the reality that many domestic violence cases collapse on the day of trial often with witnesses, usually police officers, waiting in the courtroom hallway to testify.
"Usually complaints are made by a victim in an emotional state," he said. "Alcohol is typically a factor. When the complainant comes to court, they are not willing to stand by what they said to the officer. Sometimes they do not even show up to testify."
Currie said the one-witness rule will force the Crown to take a hard look at files before they reach trial and make key decisions about who to call. The system will require prosecutors to reach out to complainants earlier, to assess the strength of the case.
He said he hopes the new system will not put people at risk by forcing resolutions unnecessarily. There is value in speed in domestic violence cases, however, he acknowledged, as the longer a file is outstanding, the greater the risk of further incidents of violence or contact breaches. If a case is resolved quickly, offenders can be better monitored than when they are on bail and made to seek counselling.
In most cases, the interests of all the parties are better served by faster results, he said.
The Kamloops courts are also working on establishing a dedicated First Nations court that will deal with issues related to aboriginal offenders. B.C.'s provincial court chief judge could not be reached for comment, but its expected that court will also launch in the new year.