The exterior view of the Surrey Courthouse expansion. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

The exterior view of the Surrey Courthouse expansion. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

$33.5M Surrey courthouse expansion officially opens

Renovations, announced in 2015, include new courtrooms, boosted security and a new Justice Access Centre

About three years after breaking ground, the newly renovated provincial courthouse in Surrey has officially opened.

Attorney General David Eby was in Surrey Friday (June 28) to give the media a tour of the $33.5 million expansion, along with Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims and Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh.

“Our government is committed to providing a justice system that serves all British Columbians,” said Eby. “The Surrey Courthouse has one of the largest caseloads in the province, and this expansion project will help deliver a court system that is able to hear and resolve these cases in a timely manner.”

According to a government release, the expansion includes three new courtrooms and two hearing rooms, including a high-security courtroom for “special-situation trials” and a high-volume courtroom for preliminary and bail features. These now accompany the previously existing 14 rooms in the provincial courthouse.

“New features, which are consistent with technology used by counsel and police, such as touch-screen monitors for advanced evidence presentation, are available in the new courtrooms,” a release states.

Other new courtroom features, according to a release, include enhanced video and audio feeds for the public and media to view evidence and courtroom proceedings from the public gallery and media room; videoconference equipment and audio recording systems that are “highly integrated with the evidence presentation system”; wheelchair-accessible witness boxes; and “barrier-free environments for the hearing impaired.”

Regional administrative judge Robert Hamilton said the new technology allows for more efficiency. The new courtrooms allow for people presenting to use their finger to draw on the computer (an example would be circling the location of an incident), which is then shown on monitors throughout the courtroom.

Previously, Hamilton said, the location would have been circled on individual pieces of paper and then distributed throughout the room.

“We can all see it on all of these cameras… It is a remarkable accomplishment just in terms of evidence presentation,” he said.

However, Hamilton said, there won’t be full retro-fitting to the 14 other courtrooms.

“It would also be a little premature for that. Let’s be honest, the legal business is still a paper-heavy business. The lawyers come with binders of paper. It will take a little bit of time, but eventually, they will come with evidence on a USB drive,” he said.

“This is the beginning of this.”

In an effort to boost building security, metal detectors and a “walkthrough personal screener” have been added to the court house’s entrance.

“A ballistic glass wall in the high-security courtroom divides the public gallery from the main courtroom,” the release adds.

READ MORE: Surrey’s courthouse to undergo $23.4-million expansion by 2017, March 19, 2015

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(Attorney General David Eby officially opens the Surrey courthouse expansion on Friday, June 28. Photo: Lauren Collins)

The expansion project also included a new Justice Access Centre (JAC), which will “provide comprehensive services designed to address family and civic non-family issues,” at a cost of $1.05 million to operate per year going forward.

Surrey’s courthouse was built in 1991 at 14340 57th Ave. It has the largest criminal caseload in the province and has the second-highest volume of provincial civil and small claims cases.

The provincial government says the Surrey Courthouse has the highest number of family and civil non-family issues in B.C.

Hamilton said Surrey has one of the “busiest” courthouses in all of Canada.

“Just to put this into perspective, every single day here in Surrey, we process between 300 and 350 criminal files; we accommodate between 60 and 100 prisoners; each week, we process in excess of 150 family files. Surrey needed this new wing,” Hamilton said.

Back in 2015, it was announced the courthouse would undergo a $24.3-million expansion. Construction was set to begin in 2016, with a completion date for 2017.

Then in 2016, when the previous provincial government broke ground, the expansion was expected to cost $33.5 million, with a completion date of “early 2018.”

Eby said the cause for delay was due to the previous government, which he said “hadn’t mocked up the courtrooms and gone through with court staff to make sure (the designs) would work properly.” He said this was done “in order to save money.”

“But this resulted in a delay in opening as we had to reconfigure some of the benches to make sure that the judges had proper line of sight.”

The project’s budget includes $27 million for construction and another $6.5 million for furniture and fittings, as well as design and municipal fees.

READ MORE: Surrey courthouse construction, renovations aim to shorten wait times, March 8, 2017