Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chaos Days, Video Conferencing and the Ontario Courts

The degree to which Ontario's Court system is technologically archaic might well come as a bit of a surprise to the uninitiated.

With that in mind, I am sure these comments will appear to come from left-field, as far as some in the legal profession are concerned (while many in other industries will respond, "duh - we've been doing this for years...") .

Last month, a client and I had the genuine misfortune of spending a wasted day at Newmarket Superior Court (Family Court Branch), waiting for her rather urgent motion to be called and heard.

While I don't recall the exact number of cases on the single, presiding Judge's list, it certainly exceeded 50, and clearly went far beyond the volume that could reasonably be handled by any one Judge.

By mid-afternoon, the remaining uncalled cases, including my client's, were all sent home as unreachable due to shortage of time.

It was a full court day wasted, with all litigants' limited funds squandered in an overburdened court system that did not even attempt to utter a sheepish admission of wrongdoing.

At my next appearance in Newmarket, another Judge of the same court quite openly referred to its weekly motion lists as "chaos days." Unfortunately, this is business as usual in certain courthouses in the Province.

There is a solution.

It is time to make video conferencing available for civil court motions.

It's not such a stretch - we already do this with the Toronto court by telephone (without video) for certain procedural appearances.

Imagine a system where lawyers (with clients nearby) remain comfortably in their offices, productively working, while waiting on-call for their cases to be reached. When the assigned Judge is ready, all parties are notified, and after a brief "on-deck" period, a video conference is immediately convened via our computers.

All parties can see the presiding Judge and each other on-screen. Argument is heard, the matters are addressed, a decision is rendered, and all parties' costs are kept to a minimum.

Access to justice miraculously restored. No costs to our clients for "court waiting time."

No new brick and mortar courtrooms required - just a bit of inexpensive, already-available technology that the young and the technologically-inclined are already utilizing via MSN and other similar, widely-available formats.

With enhanced security features, there is absolutely no reason why this technology cannot be adapted for use by our Court system.

This is an era, after all, where video capability allows physicians to remotely participate in consultations and even surgery through online connections.

While I am certainly not suggesting that this format is appropriate for every matter (it is not), it might be a giant leap forward to have the option.

Especially on "chaos days."

-Garry J. Wise, Toronto
Visit our Website: www.wiselaw.net

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