About 99% of all criminal cases in BC begin and end in Provincial Court. A much smaller number of criminal cases are heard in the Supreme Court. It is the Supreme Court that hears all the jury trials. Provincial Court judges sit alone, never with a jury. The Provincial Court hears all criminal matters, except murder committed by adults, and a few obscure offences, such as “alarming her majesty” and treason.
The court hears trials of crimes such as theft under $5000 which is the formal name for shoplifting. It also hear trials for mischief, possession of small amounts of drugs, simple assaults and more serious crimes like aggravated sexual assault or kidnapping where the accused chooses to have his or her trial in this court. If the accused is proven guilty or pleads guilty, then the court does sentencing hearings
If the accused person is charged with a more serious crime such as manslaughter, break and enter or kidnapping, the accused has the right to choose to have a trial in Provincial Court or Supreme Court.
This is called an election. If the accused elects to have a trial in Supreme Court, then the Provincial Court conducts the preliminary inquiry to see if the Crown has enough evidence to hold a full trial.
In murder cases involving adult accused, the judge conducts a preliminary inquiry to decide if there is enough evidence to justify holding the full trial in Supreme Court.
The accused may want to have a trial in Supreme Court because they want a jury to hear their case, or they may believe the chance to have a preliminary inquiry will help them learn more about the case against them.
The Provincial Court hears virtually all criminal cases involving youth from ages 12 to 17, and that includes a charge of murder. Children under 12 cannot be charged with a criminal offence. However, if it is believed that a child under 12 may have committed a serious crime, the Family Court in Provincial Court can conduct a hearing to consider the child’s safety and well- being and whether they are being cared for appropriately.