Three years into his retirement and Vernon’s Frank Cole is still pushing, longing for a new courthouse.
The retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice spent 24 years at the Vernon Courthouse going up elevators to the third floor where the supreme court is located. Cole would then, while trials were proceeding, be escorted through the hallways by a sheriff during breaks or ends in the proceedings as members of the public walked about. The same goes for provincial and civil court judges.
A 2011 assessment made by architects, said Cole, described the lack of security in the Vernon Courthouse, which turned 100 in 2014, as “startling.”
“What is needed is to bring the existing courthouse up to current standards and use it for civil trials,” said Cole, now 78, who arrived in Vernon in 1971 as an articling lawyer. “The court registry should remain in the courthouse and Crown counsel and the probation branch should be returned to the courthouse…”
Cole said a new courthouse designed for criminal trials should be built either at the side or the back of the existing courthouse and can be connected with secure access.
“This is also an appropriate time for the federal government as part of their infrastructure initiative to financially support a new Vernon courthouse,” said Cole.
The provincial government prepared a report on the Vernon Courthouse in 2015. The report states that while the Vernon Courthouse holds a valuable position as a historical courthouse, it is “at odds with the proper functioning of a modern courthouse.”
The lack of segregated circulation areas is the most pressing issue, said the report.
“In modern courthouses, circulation for the public, persons in custody and judges is separated into three different sets of hallway and stairs/elevator connections,” said Cole. “The existing courthouse lacks the segregation which presents a security risk to all three groups.”
Vernon’s courthouse does not have a courtroom for high-security cases and because of that, such cases are sent to Kelowna or elsewhere in B.C. There are currently two provincial court judges and one Supreme Court Justice resident in Vernon, along with a master that attends once a week, traffic court judges attend periodically as do visiting Supreme and Provincial Court judges.
Room is also needed for mediation, especially in family cases, said Cole, and trial management conferences.
“Because of the lack of courtrooms, many trials go to Kelowna which costs up to $1,000 per day for travel costs for lawyers and expert witnesses, and in addition is inconvenient for the parties,” he said. “All criminal matters should be heard in the community where your offence takes place, and the trial and sentencing are open to the members of this community.”
The 2015 report recommended building a new courthouse across 27th Street from the existing building in Justice Court Park, but Cole wants to see the park maintained for public green space use.