In September, at the Opening of the Courts, a very similar speech was given by the Chief Justices of Quebec and Ontario to their respective audiences. Unknowingly in tune, the highest ranking provincial judges of both provinces deplored the heavy, inaccessible and saturated court system.
Chief Justices Nicole Duval Hesler, François Rolland and Élizabeth Corte pleaded for the augmentation of judicial staff. But more importantly, they came to the conclusion that despite the current efforts to use staff more efficiently, the court system can simply not satisfy the increasingly high demand. Thus, as per Justice Rolland, “[n]ous n’avons plus le choix (…)” (transl: we have no other choice): as a legal community, we have to change our methods and innovate. He underlined that this means moving away from legal formalism and the procedural jousting to which society is a stranger.
Ten days later, the Honourable George R. Strathy, Chief Justice of Ontario, raised concerns about the “cost, complexity and time it takes to complete legal proceedings.” He encouraged the Courts to consider simplifying, streamlining and making their practice more user-friendly. And Justice Strathy personally committed to reviewing the Court of Appeal’s practices with a view to meeting these goals.
The issues described above raise an increasingly popular tangent: the digitization of justice.
All across Canada, judges, law societies, courthouses, schools, and professional bodies have been imploring the modernization of the court system in order to improve the administration of justice – and by extension, improve access to justice.
Several initiatives have been implemented over the years across Canada. For example, in Quebec, the new Code of Civil Procedure encourages the use of technology, and in addition, the Ministry of Justice recently announced the deployment of WIFI in all courthouses in Quebec. Similarly, internet access has expanded in Ontario, a model electronic courtroom was created in the Toronto Superior Court of Justice, and in British Columbia, the Supreme Court issued a practice direction on electronic documents and evidence.
Despite these endeavours, our court systems are more congested than ever. Is it because Canada lacks adequate technology? Obviously not. In fact, legal tech is booming. In 2012, 500 million dollars were invested by venture capitalists across North America on legal-tech start-ups. Nevertheless, our court systems are lagging behind due to the heavy burden imposed by centuries of formalism and paper-based procedures which slow down the administration of justice. The need is there. The technology is there. Even the will is there. But the legal ecosystem is not moving fast enough. I believe that adoption of technology cannot be encouraged, it should be imposed. Yes, I said it. I personally believe that in order for us (myself included) to implement the technology needed to relieve our courthouses, orders should come from higher above. But I would love to be convinced otherwise.
My name is Amir Tajrakimi, and I am legal counsel at National Bank of Canada, as well as CEO & Cofounder of legal-tech startup Lexop.com. I am a member of the Quebec Bar and the Canadian Bar Association, and a passionate advocate of technology and innovative law practice management. Join me on October 30, 2014, at 1pm ET for the next #cbafutureschat. I will host a Twitter Chat for the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative during which I will be the moderator. I’ll ask questions about the issues raised above, and people are free to respond, share ideas and network. It’s a very fun hour, and all feedback will greatly advance the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative.