TORONTO – Ontario government says it will make its courts, including one responsible for handling landlord-tenant disputes, more accessible online to tackle backlogs and backlogs exacerbated by the COVID pandemic 19.
The province is expected to announce plans today to further modernize the justice system, including a new digital case management system for Ontario’s 14 arbitration tribunals.
Attorney General Doug Downey said the new system, modeled on a similar system in British Columbia, will go beyond simply filing documents online and allow for virtual dispute resolution that could significantly reduce the number of cases requiring an audience.
Ontario Attorney General Says Coronavirus Pandemic Has Revived Modernization of Justice System
He says the system will be accessible 24 hours a day and will be in place at the Landlord and Human Rights Tribunal – two of the most active courts – by the end of the summer.
The government has said the deployment of the remaining courts will be phased in and are expected to be completed by December 2023.
The expected announcement today also includes the expansion of remote hearings and digital document sharing, and plans to modernize courthouses to make them more accessible and less intimidating to the public.
Downey said he wanted Ontario courthouses to be more “client-focused,” saying the current paper-based system is difficult to navigate for those outside the legal profession.
“It’s just not user-friendly for people who find themselves, quite frankly, in a very intimidating place, at a very sensitive time in their lives,” he said.
Coronavirus: pandemic forces Ontario justice system “stuck in 1970s” to modernize
He cited, as an example, the addition of phone charging stations in courthouses as a small change that could affect the public experience. Further improvements would help people know where they need to be and when without having to go through piles of paperwork, he said.
Downey couldn’t give a specific timeline for these changes, but said work on many of them is already underway, spurred in part by the pandemic, which has cut off in-person hearings for months at that time. Jury trials are currently suspended until at least May.
“COVID helped highlight some of the reasons I felt we had to move in this direction, and opened doors and brought down barriers,” he said.
“Once we started having to do things… we started to change the way conversations went. And it really is a turning point in the way we are changing.
In recent months, the province has also set up an online selection for jurors and a website to search cases in the Superior Court of Justice, among other tools.
© 2021 The Canadian Press