Kirschbaum: COVID has modernized the judiciary, let’s not go back | Panda Anku

Ontario courts have reverted to in-person appearances and paper documents, taking away flexibility and hampering access

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In April, attorneys in eastern Ontario were told that numerous types of civil and family court cases fought over Zoom during the pandemic would return to the Supreme Court for in-person hearings.

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In Ottawa, those guidelines went into effect earlier this month. This decision was made without consulting the public or members of the legal profession and to some extent betrays Chief Justice Richard Wagner’s public statement of the Supreme Court of Canada that the justice system cannot return until 2019. The current system fails to maximize profits from the pandemic, and in Ottawa threatens to tax a courthouse that sometimes lacks physical courtrooms.

Since COVID-19 shut down regular courthouse operations across the province in 2020, numerous technological changes have occurred in the family court system. The filing, previously made in paper form physically at the courthouse counter, has been posted online. This was initially done by email to different judicial email addresses depending on the document.

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Two technologies were introduced in Summer 2020, Caselines and the JSO Portal afterwards. The JSO portal is the online archive where documents are accepted or rejected by the court. Caselines is an additional database into which accepted documents must be uploaded prior to hearings so that they can be viewed by the parties and the judge in one central location. Documents filed outside of the standard time limits for various reasons (including emergencies or court orders) must still be emailed to the relevant court offices and uploaded.

Although access to e-filing offers environmental benefits and a degree of technological efficiencies, the e-filing system is far from simple and further investment is needed to overcome the limitations of the current system.

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Additionally, throughout the pandemic, the court system has demonstrated the ability to deliver justice via video conferencing software Zoom, which had previously been deemed too risky by decision-makers for security reasons and likely a degree of financial conservatism.

This meant that parties could attend hearings from home or work. They had to take less time off work to get to the courthouse in person. Lawyers arriving from the comfort of their offices were able to use waiting times more efficiently, thereby reducing client bills. Third party service providers such as B. Interpreters could work remotely, reducing travel costs and wasted time.

Were there occasional cats on Zoom and one person who was inappropriately dressed? Absolutely. But the bottom line is that Zoom hearings worked, especially in cases where each side was represented by an attorney. Court decisions were delivered by email and life went on.

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According to the new practice orientation, family court appointments such as case reviews, which are more of a procedural nature in content, also require a personal presence. This means that the parties must attend a hearing in person, which can last 30 minutes and where the subject matter discussed may be limited to further filing deadlines. This presence is required of the parties regardless of the difficulties they may encounter in visiting the courthouse, whether caused by the distance between the courthouse and their place of residence or other obstacles.

Their attorneys, who filed all materials electronically, must either come to the courtroom with paper copies of relevant materials, as was common practice for many in 2019, or use office laptops and rely on Internet hotspotting or the patchy Wi-Fi system leave the courthouse.

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The lack of access to caselines on computers at the counseling table makes it difficult to access relevant documents. Requests for virtual hearings will only be granted in exceptional cases (e.g. for a customer residing in another federal state or in the event of serious health impairment). This means many parties based in smaller jurisdictions like Cornwall or Perth will again have to pay their lawyers in Ottawa to drive out of town to court.

The current direction of practice takes us too far into the past. The justice system needs to evolve, and that means greater openness to virtual hearings, especially trial dates, and more freedom to opt out of in-person attendance for a variety of reasons. Throughout the pandemic, Ontarians have been able to hire attorneys across the province because of the flexibility remote hearings offer. Waiting time accounting has been reduced. improved access to justice. This can’t stop.

Ottawa attorney Alexandra Kirschbaum has worked exclusively in family law since 2013. This article was created with the support of Kiran Virk.

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