When I tell my non-lawyer friends that I still have a fax machine (and keep the number close to my heart), their mouths gape open and they cannot hide their shock. The fax machine is just one vestige of technology, which our justice system refuses to abandon. Other examples include paper filing (lack of electronic filing), and time-consuming, in-person appearances in a courtroom just to set dates for other dates in a courtroom – picture a doodle poll to which you must drive and attend in person.
COVID-19 has brought our civil justice system to a grinding halt. Courthouses are closed, limitation periods are suspended, and it is very difficult to get a case before a judge unless it is urgent or very straightforward.
Note there is no lack of will on the part of the bench, or the bar, to get the system moving. The problem is that the justice system’s infrastructure is stuck in the last century. Indeed, political decisions from the past, which delayed the modernization of the courts, and the appointment of judges, are wreaking havoc on parties litigating in 2020.
Albert Einstein taught us that great opportunity lies in the midst of every crisis. It is my sincere hope that the opportunity that has been thrust upon Ontario’s justice system by COVID-19 will propel the courts into our modern era through necessity.
It is an opportunity to be seized.
Behind the scenes, the Courts, the Attorney General, and various legal organizations are working hard evaluating various software options, developing best practices for e-hearing policies, and considering legislative amendments. These initiatives to modernize Ontario’s courts must continue regardless of how much longer we stay locked down, and the doors to the courthouse remain closed to civil claimants. If they do, I may finally be able to get rid of my fax machine.