B.C. Supreme Court judiciary in Kamloops undergoing big changes

Fewer judges in Kamloops

Kamloops is down to just one B.C. Supreme Court judge, and whether both of the vacant local positions on the court are filled is yet to be seen.

After last month’s promotion of Justice Len Marchand to the B.C. Court of Appeal and Justice Dev Dley’s recent move from the Tournament Capital to the Fraser Valley, the number of B.C. Supreme Court judges in Kamloops is down to one — Justice Sheri Donegan.

Justice Dennis Hori — a born-and-raised Kamloops resident who has been working in Kelowna since being appointed a judge in 2019 — will soon begin sitting in his hometown, Castanet has learned, but that will still leave the city’s courthouse shorthanded by one.

Kamloops typically has three resident B.C. Supreme Court judges. In recent years, that trio has been Donegan, Marchand and Dley.

Some city lawyers think there’s a chance one of the positions could be left empty. Judges elsewhere in B.C. could then sit virtually in Kamloops as needed, travelling to the city in person only when required.

“You have to keep in mind that the situation is somewhat different than it was before COVID,” longtime Kamloops defence lawyer Sheldon Tate told Castanet Kamloops.

“Before COVID, the notion of making appearances on Microsoft Teams wasn’t something that happened. It wasn’t common, usual or accepted practice. But now that it’s been opened up, I suppose the court can cover situations by employing those means.”

Tate said it’s important to have judges who are local and know the community. He wants to see both vacant positions filled immediately.

“Logistically, I find it necessary that our Supreme Court bench be restored as soon as possible,” he said. “But, in practical terms, getting a Supreme Court appointment has to go through Ottawa, and it’s basically out of our hands.”

Defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen said he’s ready to embrace the future — even if it means fewer local judges and more hearings conducted via technology.

“If things go virtual like they are, do you need judges to be in Kamloops chambers? Can you just have a judge who’s anywhere in the province and can just be patched in? If that’s the case, then the sky’s the limit,” he said, noting COVID-19 protocols in B.C. courthouses have shown court appearances do not always have to happen in person for justice to be done.

“It is the future, and COVID hasn’t just hit the fast-forward button — it’s swung around and grabbed us and given us a much needed push forward. Access to justice is greatly enhanced.”

Dley, who was a lawyer in Kamloops before being named a judge in 2008, is one of three B.C. Supreme Court judges tapped to work in Abbotsford when the court began sitting inside that city’s new courthouse in February.

Out-of-town judges can be expected to fill in at the Kamloops Law Courts as required for the time being. This week, Vancouver-based Justice Heather MacNaughton and Justice Geoffrey Gomery are sitting in Kamloops.

It is not yet known when Hori will return to Kamloops and begin sitting in the city’s courthouse. Also unclear is the timeline for when the city’s third B.C. Supreme Court judge position will be filled — if it is to be filled on a full-time basis.

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