Ontario unveils $166 million investment in digital justice platform

Thomson Reuters wins contract to build system for delivering more services online

Ontario unveils $166 million investment in digital justice platform
Ontario AG Doug Downey (third from left) with Thomson Reuter’s David Wong (to Downey’s right) and TR team

Ontario is investing $166 million to deliver more legal services online, replacing paper-based procedures with a digital platform that will provide better access to the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice.

Thomson Reuters has been awarded the contract to deliver the new digital justice platform, allowing court users to: 

  • file documents quickly and easily online
  • digitally access court case information online
  • pay fees online
  • connect virtually to hearings
  • manage court appearances online
  • receive decisions electronically

In making the announcement earlier this week, Attorney General Doug Downey said, “Ontario is one step closer to a digital justice system that helps people resolve legal matters easier and faster. Today marks a significant new chapter in our government’s plan to build a more modern, accessible and effective justice system now and into the future.”

The province’s Courts Digital Transformation Initiativ, first announced in November 2021, is part of the Justice Accelerated Strategy, a “multi-year plan” to remove barriers and speed up access to services.

Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz and Ontario Court of Justice Chief Justice Sharon Nicklas, in a joint statement, said they applaud the government’s investment and support towards the modernization of court processes, procedures and technology.

The two said: “The Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice remain committed partners in this critical modernization project and to collaborating with our justice partners to replace several antiquated technology programs with a more seamless and streamlined system to support both courts and across business lines.”

David Wong, Chief Product Officer with Thomson Reuters, says, "Together, Ontario and Thomson Reuters will transform Ontario’s courts into one of the most modern and accessible justice systems in North America. As a Canadian company, we are proud that our technology will help improve access to justice in our home province.”

Ontario Bar Association President Kelly McDermott says her organization has “long been an advocate for online filing, scheduling, and document access.” 

She adds: “We are pleased to see this initiative moving forward. Based on the OBA’s work with the government to improve existing online portals and our CaseLines training for the bar, we know that input from Ontario lawyers is key to ensuring digital transformation initiatives are successful. We look forward to continuing to work with the government to provide that critical frontline feedback.”

The OBA recently held two webinars or members to discuss ideas for reducing the backlog of cases clogging Ontario’s civil courts, a problem that existed before COVID-19 but accelerated by the pandemic.

McDermott says the backlog has reached the point that there are some “real impediments” to access to justice in the civil system. 

In February 2022, the Ontario government announced an investment of $65 million over five years to ensure more courtrooms across the province are equipped with technology to enable people to access hearings through video or audio.

As of June 2023, court users can electronically submit over 700 different types of court documents for family, civil, divisional and small claims court matters.

In late June, the Advocates’ Society published a report,  Delay No Longer. The Time to Act Is Now, looking at ways of relieving pressures in the civil system across Canada, noting that the recent implementation of technology and virtual proceedings “presents an unprecedented opportunity to mobilize the courts’ judicial and other human resources across a given jurisdiction to support busier or more backlogged regions.

“Technology can be used to redeploy judicial resources to areas within a province or territory where they are most needed, without having to incur the significant cost and disruption of travel or permanent relocation.”

However, the report also cautions that the use of technology is only as good as the technology itself. Courts must continue to “commit the necessary resources, monetary and otherwise, for the thoughtful integration of technology into the administration of justice.”

In particular, the report recommends implementing technology to improve court filing and scheduling systems across the country as an essential step towards curing the crisis of delays.

“While some Canadian courts developed electronic filing systems before or during the COVID-19 pandemic, others still require litigants to file paper materials, either in person or by fax.”

Another area where the use of technology can diminish delay is in the scheduling of court dates. There are software solutions, the report says, that would permit court users to schedule their dates, automatically send reminders and automatically strike matters from the list if deadlines are not met.

More sophisticated software can even predict the likelihood of certain cases resolving or proceeding and use that information to maximize the effective use of court time.

According to the report, “To our knowledge, apart from some small pilot projects, this software is not being used by Canadian courts, and scheduling is still done manually via email, fax or telephone. 

Implementing online scheduling applications that centralize and automate the scheduling of appearances before the court could greatly reduce inefficiencies and errors and save money by freeing up court staff to focus on other important tasks.”

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