March 15, 2011
Imagine a workplace today in which paper documents, not electronic ones, are the norm, Internet connections are few and far between, information can't be accessed remotely and BlackBerrys aren't allowed. It may seem archaic, but that's the current reality in Ontario, home to Canada's largest court system. As the Internet, social media and any number of electronic devices are ever present in many Canadians' personal and professional lives, critics are asking why the courts, such an important facet of democratic society, seem like the institution technology forgot.
Only selected courtrooms in Ontario have Internet connectivity, according to an Ontario Bar Association committee on e-trials — trials conducted using computers that can display evidence, enter exhibits, digitally record oral testimony, create a real-time transcription and access the Internet. A "very small number" of courtrooms are equipped with the hardware, networking and software required for an e-trial, the committee concluded.
David Outerbridge, a litigation lawyer and chairman of the bar association committee, said there are a number of judges interested in conducting e-trials, but for the most part one of the lawyers has to push for one in order for an e-trial to take place.
"It varies by jurisdiction, (but) I'd say the Ontario courts are relatively behind in adopting electronic technologies," he said. "In Toronto, for example, parties can have an electronic trial in a relatively primitive form, but only if they make it happen themselves."
Even when the will is there, the infrastructure isn't. In a recent e-trial he was involved in, Outerbridge said the lawyers brought everything into the courtroom, with wires duct-taped all over the floor.
"In our e-trial we did actually give the court clerk the software to allow them to mark the exhibits electronically, but my understanding is they then went back and marked them by hand," he said.
This article originally appeared on the 680 News website.