In Ontario most court documents are filed in paper, with e-filing appearing mostly to be a distant dream. Similarly, court documents, other than originating documents, tend to be served by fax and not by email. Everyone loves that fax confirmation page despite the fact that emails can come with a read receipt.
So should we be allowed to communicate with the court through email? Should the court be encouraged to communicate with litigants via email?
Email is a blessing and a curse. It is easy to use. It is fast. It is convenient. But on the other hand, important emails get buried beneath the daily flood of messages, with each email appearing as important as the next.
But with the rise of self-represented litigants, the courts must be more accessible. In a recent court decision, Ontario Superior Court Judge Justice Fred Myers ordered that the registrar serve a copy of the endorsement and a Form 2.1A notice on all parties, including the self-represented plaintiff and defence counsel, by mail and by email. This was done to ensure that the plaintiffs and the defendants received notice of the fact that the court was considering dismissing the motion and possibly the full action for being frivolous, vexatious, or otherwise an abuse of the process of the court.
Ordering service by email was the right thing to do. Courts must reflect the times we live in. And today email is a common form of communication. People now check their emails far more often than their mailboxes. And when it comes to a potential dismissal of an action, it is crucial that notice is actually received. Especially for self-representated plaintiffs, who have a harder time navigating the complex legal system.
However, the chance of something important getting “lost” in an inbox can be high. That is why our courts should aim to eventually develop a system more sophisticated, like the Next Generation Court System in Israel. But for now email should suffice.