In a move that has lawyers and legal advocates cringing, the B.C. Government announced its plan to move ahead with the eradication of Traffic Court in the Provincial Court system. But what does it mean for you?
As it stands today with the “old system”, any individual who is given a traffic citation (violation ticket) has the right to dispute the allegation in Court before a Provincial Court Judge. At their hearing, one may hire a lawyer to represent them, tender evidence, and present witnesses. It also provides an opportunity for the Accused person to confront their Accuser (in this case, the police officer(s) who issued the ticket) and cross examine them on their evidence. It is a perfect illustration of how the adversarial system – essential to the administration of justice in common law – works, and has worked over the past hundreds of years. Unfortunately, it is soon to be a thing of the past.
The proposed new system involves diverting traffic matters to an adjudicatory body, similar to the one that handles Immediate Roadside Prohibitions. Here’s a breakdown of how the new system will work:
1) Police will now issue tickets via an online “e-ticketing” system, which will also be used for payment
2) Disputes will first be handled by the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles. Offenders will be offered incentives to plead guilty (a reduced fine, time to pay, etc)
3) If you decide to proceed with your dispute, you will be directed to the Driving Notice Review Board. You will have a pre-hearing date where you will be required to submit any evidence you will be relying on to supplement your argument. Then, you will have your hearing before the Driving Notice Review Board (either in person, over the phone, or by writing). The Board will consider your evidence and the officer’s evidence and will render a final decision. Once that decision has been rendered, there is no opportunity for appeal or judicial review.
What it boils down to is citizens being stripped of the right to their day in Court. The fact that there is no opportunity for review is one of the most frightening things – and it ties in perfectly with the Ministry of Justice’s explanation that the new process will encourage “system efficiencies”. Obviously if you cut out an entire part of the process, things will move at a quicker pace.
All in all, the Government’s scheme to save money comes at a dire price for the citizens of British Columbia, and I can’t help but wonder – what are our rights worth?