Editorial: Better justice, incrementally

It’s somewhat ironic that not long after the province released updated statistics showing the Justice on Target program continues to lag, Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur was announcing a new effort called Better Justice Together last week.
The two strategies are by no means the same. Justice on Target was about setting specific goals for speeding up criminal cases while Better Justice Together is a broader effort to make the overall justice system simpler, faster, and less expensive. It includes familiar themes around making the system easier to navigate, supporting mediation and other court alternatives in family law, and doing more to address mental health in the justice system. A key theme is collaboration across the justice system and introducing more modern technology.

It’s all things we’ve heard before. But in a speech last week, Meilleur suggested things would be different this time. “Despite our best efforts, government hasn’t been a leader in harnessing the power of technology,” she said. “The reality is we are not where we should be. So you may be asking yourself, ‘Why now? What’s different this time?’”

The answer she gave was that the government is now focusing on incremental progress. “We are now focusing our efforts on projects that are incremental, targeted, and meet the expectations of court and tribunal users and the public,” she said, citing changes such as the recent introduction through a pilot project of electronic filing options in the Small Claims Court. The government will be rolling it out across the province in early 2015, she noted.

Other changes planned for the coming year include a pilot project for a search warrants tracking system in Toronto that will allow court staff to more easily search for and find warrants. The government is also planning to expand its Crown case management system that allows for electronic disclosure in Toronto to make it available across the province.

The changes are, admittedly, small and fall short of what people have been demanding for years. But even with something like Justice on Target, which has fallen short of its initial ambitious goals and even its revised ones, lawyers say they’re still seeing progress in court with disclosure coming faster and cases proceeding a bit more smoothly. And with the government having allocated significant money for legal aid, things are improving on that front as well.

The government, then, deserves some credit. It’s certainly not fixing the backlog of issues in the justice system it let fester for years but it has at last shown it’s able to move forward in a modest but more comprehensive way.

Glenn Kauth

For more, see "Justice on Target continues to fall short: stats show."

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