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Ontario Announces New Digital Justice Solution

Earlier this month, the Government of Ontario announced that it will deliver a ‘new digital justice solution that will transform how people handle their legal matters at the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice.’ The goal of the solution is to enable court users to work through the legal process online, removing the need to pay fees or file documents in-person. This blog will look at why the province decided to move forward with the solution, what the solution entails, and whether personal injury lawyers in Ontario support of the move.

What Will the Solution Look Like?

The province is calling the Courts Digital Transformation project ‘the most significant single step forward in the digital evolution of justice in Canada,’ an innovation that will replace ‘outdated paper-based procedures with an online platform to manage cases, documents and schedules.’

Attorney General Doug Downey, in a provincial news release, said: “Our government’s new digital solution is a game-changer that will provide Ontarians with on-demand access to their legal matters. Building on numerous recent breakthroughs, this central piece of the Justice Accelerated Strategy will provide the tools needed to better meet expectations for how justice can be done in 2021 and beyond.”

Speaking to the Canadian Press, the Attorney General added: “I’m really excited about this foundational transformation, and it’s probably bigger than people even imagine. This is potentially the biggest investment in the justice system in Ontario, in the history of Ontario.”

According to the release, the new platform will allow court users to digitally access court info at any time; submit and view court documents online; file more court documents online in more types of matters than currently permitted; access court records more easily and more quickly; schedule matters and appearances online; pay fees online; and receive decisions electronically.

The aim is to develop a more modern and, more importantly, more efficient justice system. In a joint statement, the Chief Justices of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice, Geoffrey Morawetz and Lisa Maisonneuve, said: “The investment in a long-awaited case management system is critically important to support a modern and effective justice system.”

The dollar amount of the investment has not been announced as the technology is still in the procurement phase. No timelines for implementation have been announced, either.

Why Is This Solution Necessary?

The province’s criminal and civil justice systems were grappling with a massive trial backlog even before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Ontario. When the virus forced courthouses to close for in-person proceedings, the backlog grew, highlighting the systems’ lack of technological capabilities.

With their clients now facing serious access to justice barriers, personal injury lawyers sought solutions to mounting delays. In some situations, jury cases were switched to judge-only trials, which are easier to hold amid ongoing public health restrictions. Some proponents of judge-only trials have urged the province to remove juries from all but select number of cases, at least until the COVID backlog is addressed.

Implementing new technologies is a less disruptive solution, one that some personal injury lawyers believe is long overdue. In December 2020, Attorney General Downey told the Empire Club of Canada – via videoconference – that “the pandemic showed us in stark terms how far behind Ontario’s justice system had fallen. New thinking and quick action put us on a path that can actually achieve what Ontarians have been crying out for for decades.”

In February, the Canadian Bar Association released a report calling on legal professionals to keep, and build upon, technological innovations adopted during the first year of COVID. Also in February, Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner told the bar Association that COVID proved “it is possible to modernize our justice system” and “it would be irresponsible to not seize this opportunity.”

Contact Will Davidson LLP to Learn More

If you’re concerned about how a shift to online legal proceedings will affect your case, contact Will Davidson LLP today to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer. In general, Ontario personal injury lawyers support the cautious and responsible adoption of new technologies that will streamline the legal process.

Image: Shutterstock

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