I Can Pay My Mortgage Online… but I Can’t File a Factum

In my last post I talked about a case in which Justice Brown noted that the Ontario Court system “lacks modern administrative infrastructure including, for example, proper electronic case management and document filing technologies.”

This week a friend of mine directed me to this interesting link about the state of the internet which got me to thinking, just how technologically archaic is our legal system?

Although (dare I say) most lawyers communicate by e-mail, you can only serve court documents via e-mail on counsel (you can’t serve self-represented parties) and this requires counsel to send back an acceptance of service. The result is that most lawyers continue to fax court documents to opposing counsel as no acceptance is required. More printing, more paper, more time.

Similarly, the courts have yet to adopt a system where court documents can be filed via e-mail or uploaded via a secure website. The commercial internet is now 20 years old. Twenty years! It is now a common occurrence for the Registrar to remind everyone to turn their cell phones off before the Judge enters the courtroom, and for counsel to check their blackberries when re-scheduling a matter. Yet we still send clerks, process servers and articling students to the court house to sit in line for hours on end to issue our Statements of Claim and file our motion records, because there is no other alternative. Can’t we, as a profession, catch up with the times and find a better way?


  1. David Collier-Brown

    At the technical level, a court looks a lot like my optometrist’s office.

    Some information is in the computer: regular patients (lawyers and other offices of the court), the doctor’s appointment calendars and room bookings (schedules, dockets ), etc.

    Much is in the computer, but specifically as images of paper documents. Someone sticks a bar code on a document and drops it in the scanner. It shows up on a screen as an image, a unique number (the bar-code) and an attempted OCR. The clerk looks at the number and assigns it to a particular patient (trial) and it is added to a time-stamped list of documents for that patient. For convenience, the clerk cuts and pastes the title from the OCR’d copy into the list of documents.

    When the patient arrives, all his documents are in the computer, and the doctor can pull them up on her screen, usually most recent first. Typically her hand-written notes from the last checkup are in the first or second spot, and she can catch up with what’s been happening since the last time they met.

    If she needs to send me to a specialist (higher court), she can email my whole case file, or the last few documents. The specialist can then add to the list, and mail the whole thing back.

    I looked at that technology for a medical doctor twenty years ago, when it was hard and expensive. I worked for Siemens Electric large-scale imaging more than ten years ago, when they did hospitals and well-to-do insurance agencies. Then it was just expensive. Now my optometrist and dentist both have such systems, bought off the shelf, cheap. In fact, she’s just switched to a newer one, with more capacity to keep files ready for a walk-in visit.

    This is known as “a solved problem in computer science”.


  2. Given that the judges want electronic documents (see, for example the Court of Appeal Practice Direction Concerning Civil Appeals in the Court of Appeal, at s.10.7 “Use of Technology”), I agree there really should be an easier way to do this.

    With respect to service by email on counsel, I will do it with co-operative counsel, though I would really like to know if anyone has ever been able to convince staff at a registrar’s office to accept the admittedly odd provisions of Rule 16.09(6) for proof of service by email.

    Many Tribunals now permit (and, in fact, encourage) electronic service and filing; see, for example, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

    A good description of some of the issues associated with electronic documents, and an attempt to address them, is set out in the Superior Court Practice Direction Guidelines for Preparing and Delivering Electronic Documents requested by Judges .

    — Bruce