Editorial: Province fails on court technology

It’s now clear that the dream of a comprehensive court technology system won’t become reality any time soon.

As the Ministry of the Attorney General told Law Times last week, the government won’t be going ahead with the Court Information Management System — an effort touted as a bid to “fundamentally alter internal and public access to the courts” that would include enhancements such as electronic document filing — after years of trying to get it and other similar programs off the ground. It has also given up on a full rollout of the Crown Management Information System, an effort to digitize Ontario’s largely paper-based prosecution service, within the criminal law division.

As of last year, the province had spent almost $10 million on the Court Information Management System with the budget for the criminal law division program projected to hit $11.5 million. The plan now is to take an incremental approach to court technology by introducing more automated paperless processes and electronic services for the public. As for prosecutors, the government will continue with limited use of the Crown Management Information System in some offices while it works on developing a new program that will also allow it to better track workload information. One of the priorities is technology that would allow the ministry to get disclosure materials from police electronically.

On one level, it’s outrageous that the government has repeatedly failed on this issue. After so many false starts dating back to the late 1990s, it’s amazing that the government can’t get a functioning system up and running. In addition, while the government notes it’s prioritizing technology to allow people to appear in court remotely, that’s hardly anywhere close to the comprehensive electronic options, particularly when it comes to filing documents, people expect.

The failure isn’t on the level of the eHealth Ontario scandal or the massive costs of developing the Presto card for the province’s transit systems. But it’s clear the government has dropped the ball on something the court system needs to be more efficient and accessible for lawyers, judges, staff, and the public. Did it waste time developing its own system when it could have borrowed from other jurisdictions? Should it have budgeted more for the projects in order to have a more realistic chance of developing something useful given the scale of Ontario’s justice system? Is the failure largely due to mismanagement? It’s hard to say, although reports over the years have noted mismanagement was a factor.

At this point, an incremental approach isn’t unreasonable given the amount of money spent so far and the need to start delivering results. But it’s a shame those results won’t be anything close to what people need and expect.

For more, see "Ontario lagging on court technology" and "AG falters on court technology system once again."

Glenn Kauth

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