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Technology in the Courtroom

April 22, 2022 Leslie Smith
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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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Technology in the Courtroom

April 22, 2022 | Leslie Smith

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Core Beliefs

I strive each day to live and work by one principle - treat others as I would want to be treated. In my practice, that translates into 4 key values:

I do what I say I will do and I am honest and transparent at all times with clients, staff, opposing counsel, the court and anyone else. I provide my clients with an honest assessment of their case. If I make a commitment to a client, I keep it. Integrity also means that my clients know before they retain me what my fee structure is. If a client appears unsure of whether or not to retain me or what to do, I tell them to go home and think about it first.

Integrity

Employees having difficulty at the workplace are often in considerable emotional distress when they arrive at my office. Employers can be as well. Employment issues involve human interactions, which necessarily involve emotions that sometimes need healing. I enjoy helping my employee clients think and feel differently about their situations. I also enjoy helping employers understand that their employees need to be treated with respect, dignity, kindness and fairness, no matter what is going on.

Compassion

I have an organized and logical mind that works like a trip hammer, especially in court. I can very quickly sort out the relevant facts and issues in order to resolve my client's cases efficiently. Excellence also means to approach matters with a large measure of practicality, always thinking about what is best for my client and their family and/or business. Finally, excellence also means behaving with civility. I have learned to be hard on the issues and soft on the people - a winning combination.

Excellence

I have also been blessed with discernment and intuition that allows me to often "know" what is really going on with my clients. Equally, my own life journey has led me through difficulties in personal relationships so I understand how upsetting a broken employment relationship is. My own struggles married with discernment and intuition allows me to treat my client holistically, not just legally. This is the thing that sets me apart from most other lawyers, so say my clients.

Wisdom