Ontario’s Sorry Court Document Management System Ripped by Judge

Those of you who read the Globe and Mail may have seen in today’s paper the report by Jeff Gray, “Yes, Virginia, this is a rant from the bench,” reporting an edited version of what Justice David Brown had to say from the bench, Thursday, about Ontario’s paper-based document management system. I might not have called it a “rant,” which suggests a lack of control; rather, it’s a scathing and at times sardonic denunciation by a judge fully in control of his facts and his language. It concludes:

[17] If some may consider such criticism un-judicial in tone, I make no apology for the language used. The state of this Court’s document management and case scheduling systems is a scandal, and the poor excuse of a system which currently is employed should be subject to relentless criticism – judicial and otherwise – until it is discarded and the people of this province are provided by the provincial government with a court administration system of a quality which they deserve.

You can find the full case on CanLII: Romspen Investment Corp. v. 6176666 Canada Ltée. 2012 ONSC 1727 (congratulations CanLII on a snappy turnaround for trial level case), and I reproduce the relevant paragraphs in full below:

[6] I read that Report this morning when preparing for the motion. The Receiver, understandably, had not filed additional copies of the sealed appraisals which it had previously left with the Court. One would think that a member of the public using this Court could reasonably assume that sealed appraisals which would be referred to on repeated motions to approve the sale of condo units would be readily available for use on those further motions. Of course, reasonable assumptions play no role in how documents are managed in our Court’s system.

[7] So, how did the morning in court unfold? I stood this matter down to the end of my list, anticipating the inevitable delays. Receiver’s counsel confirmed that appraisals had been filed and sealed, but she did not have additional copies with her at hand. A two-track process then unfolded. I directed my staff to go over to the office which holds sealed documents. I say “go over” because judges of the Commercial List sit at 330 University Avenue, whereas sealed documents for Commercial List matters are kept, in the ordinary course, at 393 University Avenue. My CSO duly went across the street, waited until the responsible person was back from a break, ultimately retrieved the documents, and brought them back over. Elapsed time? One hour.

[8] At the same time Receiver’s counsel had contacted her office and her assistant was able to locate copies of the appraisals which had been filed and brought them up to court. Elapsed time? One hour. A tie of sorts.

[9] And the consequences of that one hour delay? On my part, none. I walked across the plaza, picked up a latte at Starbucks, came back and continued working on a reserve from yesterday. A most mellow approach, but I have learned that as matters presently stand one cannot fight the City Hall bureaucracy that is the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General.

[10] But the consequences to the litigant, the court-appointed receiver? A delay of one hour, involving the expenditure of additional counsel time, higher legal fees, an increase in the expenses of administering the receivership, and a consequent reduction in the net recovery for the creditors of the project.

[11] Alternatives? Well, I suppose one could say that both judge and litigant’s counsel should have anticipated a problem and acted to avoid it. Let me say in my defence that while my usual practice is not to leave my office until I have reviewed the next day’s files, yesterday was a long sitting day and, when coupled with drafting some reasons, I was not able to complete yesterday’s work until 7 p.m. Mea culpa – I went home for dinner. When I reviewed the file at 8 a.m. this morning, I identified the difficulty, but with a 9:30 start to my lists, and the timing of the arrival of court staff, I knew nothing could be done as a practical matter until the case was called.

[12] So what about Receiver’s counsel? I suppose counsel could not go wrong by always operating on the basis that this Court’s document management system will fail and always bring duplicate copies of everything. But, one must ask, why should those who use our public courts have to act on the assumption that whatever they did before, whatever they filed before, will go for naught? Hardly what one would describe as cost-efficient access to justice.

[13] The real solution? Consign our paper-based document management system to the scrap heap of history and equip this Court with a modern, electronic document system.

[14] A warm, sunny day like today perhaps allows one to dream a bit. What if our Court had an electronic case management system which recorded, as a matter of course and without the need for extraordinary judicial direction, that certain documents had been filed and sealed in a proceeding, so that when the matter returned for further hearing an electronic flag would pop up alerting court staff that sealed documents might be required for a hearing?

[15] And what if our Court had a system under which documents were filed electronically and accessible to judges and others through a web-based system, with sealed documents specially encrypted to limit access to judges only?

[16] Yes, Virginia, somewhere, someone must have created such a system, and perhaps sometime, in an another decade or so, rumours of such a possibility may waft into the paper-strewn corridors of the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General and a slow awakening may occur.

[17] If some may consider such criticism un-judicial in tone, I make no apology for the language used. The state of this Court’s document management and case scheduling systems is a scandal, and the poor excuse of a system which currently is employed should be subject to relentless criticism – judicial and otherwise – until it is discarded and the people of this province are provided by the provincial government with a court administration system of a quality which they deserve.

Comments

  1. David Collier-Brown

    “someone” has exactly such a system, which I installed at a New York City insurance company on January 2, 1995.

    Why do I know the date? Because I still have a bright yellow “I Survived the Stress Test” button, a souvenir of having worked for Siemens Electric large-scale imaging in those days.

    If the Ontario Government were to publish a request for information, I’m sure dozens of companies would reply: I know we had several competitors in 1995, and the technology as only got better and cheaper over time.

    A quick look also found open source / free software addressing the problems of governments trying to deal with tracking and delivering masses of legal and medical documents.

    –dave

  2. Simon,
    You’re entirely correct that the decision is a controlled presentation of a calculated critique. But the word “rant” is increasingly used to simply indicate a monologue, which in this context would mean judicial opining for an extended period without references to the submissions. There are traditional definitions of the word that comply with this usage as well.
    Great find. Thanks to both you and Jeff.