Becoming a Court of the Future

People proclaim that our courts are stuck in a bygone era. Ontario lacks electronic filing at all levels of court. The fax machine dominates as the preferred method of communication. Lawyers attend Scheduling Court. Appellate proceedings go unrecorded on video. Even judges are beginning to voice concern about our courts.

In Bank of Montreal v Faibish, 2014 ONSC 2178, Justice Brown called out lawyers and courts for treating our judicial system “like some fossilized Jurassic”, causing the public to lose respect for our justice system. “How many wake-up calls do the legal profession and the court system need before both look around and discover that they have become irrelevant museum pieces? Our Court must choose: are we a Court of the Past or a Court of the Future?… Paper must vanish from this Court…the judiciary cannot let the legal profession or our court service provider hold us back.”

How do we become a Court of the Future?

The answer: incrementally.

In Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner argue that big problems are usually a dense mass of small problems and that we make more progress by tackling one piece at a time.

If Ontario tries to change the courts by revolutionizing it overnight, we will become trapped in a web of consultations and red tape, like a fly trapped in a spider’s web. By addressing problems one piece at a time and introducing changes incrementally, we can hopefully avoid a bureaucratic nightmare and become a court of the future.


  1. Welcome to Slaw, Heather!

    I’m a big fan of incremental change. It often only takes one or two successful projects to alter how receptive an organization is to new things. I suspect the Courts would be no different. Every group has a culture, and whether that group has positive or negative feelings towards change tends to get ingrained in people’s heads over time.

    The only way to bust up a profoundly negative culture, in my experience, is to push out new things regularly, with each new alteration (tool, service or process) building upon the utility of previous changes. Getting some early ‘wins’ can often lead to longer term success.

  2. Thank you, Steve. I agree with you. And I would add that by introducing changes incrementally it is easier to test and refine the new court services (borrowing from the principles of design thinking).

  3. Heather,

    Great inaugural blog. Looking forward to your contributions on Slaw. You are absolutely right. Ontario has tried several times to innovate all at once and failed miserably. We need to look to other jurisdictions and other disciplines. PS I’m not sure many of my students know what a fax machine is!