The Province of Ontario is planning to implement a new digital court system that aims to increase accessibility, public engagement and tackle the clogged courts. The goal of the Courts Digital Transformation initiative is for the public to be able to do everything digitally from start to finish. Ontario’s Attorney General, Doug Downey stated that the shift to online supported by a significant financial investment will allow people to access court information, pay fees, and file documents on-demand, as long as they have access to a reliable internet connection. Paper services will still be available for those who can’t access online functions. According to Mr. Downey, this change is “estimated to be possibly the largest investment in the legal system in the history of Ontario”.
The modernization of our court systems and bringing cases to trial in a reasonable timeframe has been a constant point of contention between the courts, legal professionals, and the public. The current system relies on outdated practices. This includes completing hardcopy forms or downloading electronic versions only to have to bring a copy, along with supporting documentation, in person, at courthouses. This outdated system still heavily relies on fax machines and physical media such as CDs, where lawyers often had to travel more than an hour to submit documents in person or attend to a matter that lasts only minutes. The unforeseen impact of the pandemic, however, has unfortunately only exacerbated the delays.
In 2019, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said in her annual report that her office encountered many challenges while conducting an audit of the criminal and family court systems. In her report, she concluded that Ontario’s court operations needed to be more transparent and accountable to taxpayers. The report highlighted that 96 per cent of the 2.5 million documents filed in courts in 2018-19 were on paper and sent through fax, noting that the backlog of criminal cases awaiting conclusion increased by 27 per cent, or about 114,000 cases, between 2014 and 2018.
The new end-to-end digital system will feature online self-service, integrated case tracking and streamlined court operations. The Courts Digital Transformation will allow court users to:
- digitally access to court information 24 hours a day (on-demand) and have easier and faster access to court records;
- schedule matters and appearances;
- submit and view documents online;
- securely pay fees online;
- file more court documents in more types of matters;
- receive decisions electronically.
The plan for this new system is currently being negotiated. We are expecting it to be completed before the end of the year. It will include specifics regarding the final amount such an investment is projected to cost.
Impact and Accessibility
PooranLaw welcomes this announcement from the Government of Ontario. We support digital access to provincial court systems for the public. We are hoping to see that this announcement will come with an explicit commitment to creating an accessible and inclusive system that meet the needs of people with disabilities and their support networks. In general, court and tribunal systems across the country have long been plagued by valid claims of inaccessibility and ableism towards people with disabilities, demonstrating a dire need for court professionals to recognize the link between accessibility, accommodations, and justice.
Despite the many systemic changes that need to be implemented in order to increase access to justice for people with disabilities in meaningful ways, this announcement signals progress toward greater access to justice for the 2 million+ people with disabilities and accessibility needs in Ontario.
PooranLaw will continue to monitor legal developments related to the Courts Digital Transformation solution and court accessibility. In the meantime, if you require legal assistance, we encourage you to reach out to your regular PooranLaw lawyer, or any member of our team.
Note: This article provides general information only and does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice or opinion. PooranLaw Professional Corporation holds the copyright to this article and the article, and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of PooranLaw Professional Corporation.