Specialized domestic-violence court becomes law in Surrey

SURREY, BC., June 20, 2016 -- Sonya Boyce comments on Surrey's new courtroom designated to hear domestic violence-related cases that are in the pretrial stages, intended to expedite the court process for these files, in Surrey, BC., June 20, 2016. 

Published on: June 23, 2016 | Last Updated: June 23, 2016 5:29 PM PDT
Sonya Boyce, executive director of the Surrey Women’s Centre, says, 'Domestic-violence cases … need to be handled differently than other cases.' As a result, a new, dedicated domestic-violence courtroom in Surrey is expected to lead to a quicker turnaround for cases and better outcomes for victims. NICK PROCAYLO / PNG
A new, dedicated domestic-violence courtroom in Surrey is expected to lead to a quicker turnaround for cases and better outcomes for victims. 
“Domestic-violence cases … need to be handled differently than other cases,” said Sonya Boyce, executive director of the Surrey Women’s Centre. “There’s a really short critical window of opportunity to intervene if you want to increase the chances of keeping women and children safe and keep the offender accountable.”
The nine-month pilot project began in Courtroom 104 at the beginning of June, and is the only domestic-violence court in Metro Vancouver. According to the B.C. Prosecution Service, one quarter of the reports to Crown counsel received in Surrey in 2015-2016, more than 2,000 files, concerned domestic violence-related offences. Provincewide, that figure is 22 per cent. 
The idea grew from a December workshop held by administrative judges who were seeking better ways to deal with criminal cases in their early stages at the Surrey courthouse, which has thousands of new cases each year. Surrey Crown proposed a domestic-violence court.
“These matters cause great disruption to the family unit in many ways, so I think that the more expeditiously these matters are resolved the better all around,” said Crown spokesman Daniel McLaughlin. “Anything we can do to move the matters quickly and appropriately through the courts is a benefit to the victims.”
A team of prosecutors works exclusively on domestic-violence cases and existing duty counsel is available to help accused in the domestic-violence and general-remand courtrooms. Judges rotate through the court.
According to court lists, the Surrey domestic-violence courtroom sees 35 to 45 accused per day. They face charges such as assault, uttering threats, criminal harassment, sexual assault, breaching court orders, mischief and possessing firearms or other weapons. Appearances are brief, just long enough to fix trial dates, make applications, conduct bail hearings, enter pleas and hold short sentencing hearings. Trials and longer sentencing hearings are heard in other courts.
There are four other domestic-violence courts in B.C. The first opened in Duncan in 2009, and a similar court started operating in 2013 in Nanaimo. Kelowna and Penticton have docket courts, and specific days are scheduled for domestic-violence cases to set early trial dates and reduce delays.
Domestic-violence courts are known to be effective because “positive results have been identified by various jurisdictions and many offenders and stakeholders indicate high levels of satisfaction with specialized court processes,” according to an email from the B.C. Ministry of Justice.
Boyce said the specialized court is part of a larger, coordinated effort by municipal and provincial governments, police and community groups to respond to domestic violence in Surrey.
For example, the Surrey RCMP has a specialized team that deals with domestic-violence cases full time, and the women’s centre is part of that team. There is also an inter-agency case-assessment team that does risk identification, management and safety planning in domestic-violence cases.
“There’s been a number of different initiatives that are dovetailing and will make the court even more effective,” Boyce said. “I think it’s a brilliant move, even if it’s long overdue, and I think we should keep heading in that direction.”
Janice Abbott, chief executive officer of the Atira Women’s Resources Society, said the domestic-violence court is a good idea, but she doesn’t see how it will make women safer. She said there needs to be a comprehensive, system-wide response that addresses issues such as violence prevention, education and how to effectively enforce court orders.
“That all needs to happen to truly change anything,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, there were 9,759 incidents of police-reported family violence in B.C. in 2014. It’s estimated that only one in five incidents are reported.
Recent publicized domestic-violence cases in Surrey include the deaths of 23-year-old Cady Quaw in May 2015 and 61-year-old Darshun Badhesa in March 2016. Quaw’s husband, Gordon Alexander David, is charged with manslaughter in her death, and Badhesa’s son, Sukhvir Badhesa, is charged with the second-degree murder of his mother.
During one morning this week in Surrey’s domestic-violence court the cases of 26 accused were heard. All of the accused except for one were male, and they ranged in age from a teen boy to a man in his mid-60s.
There were two bail hearings for people being held in custody, applications, a plea and a 30-minute sentencing hearing for a man with no prior record who pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife in February and storing a registered firearm contrary to regulations. That afternoon, he was given a suspended sentence and 18 months’ probation.
The rest of the cases were put over to new dates.