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B.C. Supreme Court scheduling system broken, has been for a long time | Kyla Lee

Friday, July 16, 2021 @ 12:13 PM | By Kyla Lee

Kyla Lee %>
Kyla Lee
On the second Tuesday of every month, alarm clocks across the province go off early. Lawyers, legal assistants, paralegals and self-represented individuals get out of bed early, make a big cup of coffee and start to engage in finger stretching exercises.

By 8:29 a.m., everyone is safely positioned directly in front of their phones, often with two or three phones at a time. And then they start dialling. And dialling. And dialling.

You see, in order to book a civil chambers hearing longer than two hours in Vancouver’s B.C. Supreme Court, you have to call scheduling. Dates are only released on the second Tuesday of every month, commencing at 8:30 a.m.

This is a feeding-frenzy free-for-all, where thousands of people wanting dates all dial in to the court at the same time and are placed in a queue to await the next available scheduling agent. The queue itself has a capacity, meaning that only a certain number of callers can be sitting in the queue at a time. Once that is full, the scheduling number rings busy.

This past Tuesday, I documented my experience in attempting to schedule one day of civil chambers court time. I began dialling at 8:29 a.m., trying to eke into the queue the second it opened. I did not succeed. I continued dialling until 8:51 a.m., at which point I had to quit for an upcoming hearing.

In that time, I made 169 calls from my cell phone. I made over 120 calls from my landline. My assistant made over 95 calls from her office landline, and another lawyer in our office made 29 calls, getting through to the queue at 8:31 a.m.

Even though our excellent associate Dan Snyder managed to make it through to the queue, after eight minutes on hold he was told when he spoke to an agent that all the available dates were gone.

Yes, Snyder got through one minute after the phone lines opened, and before 8:40 a.m., all the available dates were gone.

All those thousands of people across the province looking for a civil chambers hearing over two hours were then, after fewer than 10 minutes, left to wait another month to find a date to argue their case.

And there is no alternative.

Criticizing the system has been tried and has failed to bring meaningful change.

Heck, I even posted a TikTok video documenting my experience. The video garnered about 100,000 views in the span of one day. Then, the video was removed for “harassment and bullying,” ostensibly because no reasonable person would ever call the same number 169 times in 21 minutes unless they were committing a criminal offence. Incidentally, my follow-up video talking about how removing a video criticizing an access to justice issue was also removed for “hate speech.”

Talk about silencing the complaints.

The Memorandum to the Profession, posted as of June 10, 2020, describes the process. It notes that counsel are limited to one booking per call. This actually represents a substantial change from the earlier, pre-pandemic lengthy chambers booking process. Prior to this, counsel were permitted two bookings per call.

The memorandum indicates, as its earlier iterations have since 2013, that “Thec Court is aware of complaints pertaining to telephone queuing, and is exploring the prospect of replacing the current booking system with a web based booking process.”

It’s hard to have confidence that a system that is now eight years long in the tooth still requires an exploratory process for a web-based booking process. The likelihood of this coming to fruition is belied by the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine booking system, originally rolled out only by telephone, was quickly upgraded to a web-based booking system and delivered effectively to the entire province.

If we can do it for vaccines, certainly after eight years, we can do it for the courts. We have a model, we have an idea of what it will cost, and we know that it is necessary.

And yet.

This booking system poses a major access to justice hurdle. And nothing appears to be slated to change any time soon. If the B.C. government is serious about curing access to justice deficiencies, it can start with creating an online booking system and ending the telephone war.

I’m not holding my breath. But I am getting my fingers ready for the second Tuesday next month.  

Kyla Lee is a criminal lawyer and partner at Acumen Law Corporation in Vancouver. Her practice focuses on impaired driving. She is the host of a podcast, Driving Law, and a weekly video series Cases That Should Have Gone to the Supreme Court of Canada, But Didn’t! and the author of Cross-Examination: The Pinpoint Method. She is called to the bar in Yukon and British Columbia. Follow her at @IRPLawyer.

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