Technology in the Courtroom
April 22, 2022 Leslie Smith
Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, our Courts in Canada have had to reinvent themselves.
Before 2020, most Court cases including bail hearings, were conducted in person. Lawyers and clients were having to drive to Court houses, wait for their turn and then drive back. Of course, there has always been remote hearings for certain matters such as bail hearings and sex-assault hearings. But generally, things were done in person.
Between March and approximately September 2020 in Ontario (and quite possibly elsewhere in Canada), Courts shut down for lack of technological capabilities to deal with cases online. At the time I was sitting as a Small Claims Court judge and there were no hearings until approximately October 2020. This created an enormous backlog that the Courts are still trying to clear off.
Starting in the fall of 2020, Judges and lawyers were feverishly learning how to use ZOOM. Courts were attempting to digitize their processes – a monumental task. They have made great strides, since then.
Now, in 2022, after much adaptation and practice, most hearings are online except hearings that require live testimony. Even then, however, the parties or their lawyers can request remote trials. Procedures that work especially well online are set date hearings, motions, appeals, pre-trial conferences, and case management meetings.
Here are some best practices for a successful remote Court hearing.
- Think ahead about the documents you will need during your hearing and have a stand copy on your computer ready to email to the Judge hearing your matter. Judges often do not have access to the whole file including the pleadings. Having a stand copy ready, will greatly assist and speed up the hearing.
- Litigants are expected to display proper decorum and solemnity during a remote hearing as was required during in-person hearings. Ensure that parties are properly dressed and located in a quiet, secure place, sitting quietly, and listening and participating. Walking around your house in your underwear with a coffee spilling out of your cup, is not appropriate decorum for participating in a Court hearing.
- Check your technical connections and functionality before the hearing starts.
- Before the hearing, the parties and their lawyers should decide what technology is best suited for any hearings or meetings. It may be that the hearing is better done in person. Or it may be better suited for a remote hearing such as, for example, a matter that involves multiple parties living in various locations in the province.
- Lawyers and client must use a professional ZOOM background. Save the cat filter for zoom calls with your grandchildren.
- If a client’s bandwidth is not broad enough and he or she must go to their local Tim Horton’s to participate in a ZOOM hearing for the time-period required, have the client attend his or her lawyer’s office if possible or go to a professional office with adequate bandwidth.
I have participated in several remote hearings both as a Small Claims Court judge and lawyer advocating on behalf of clients. For the most part, I see great benefit in it, especially in terms of access to justice. Please call me if you have any questions – 905-257-7714.
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