System will be implemented first in the Landlord and Tenant Board this summer, says AG Doug Downey
Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General announced a new multi-year plan aimed at enhancing access to the justice system, which includes a $28.5-million investment in a new digital case-management and dispute resolution system for Ontario’s tribunals.
Announced on March 11, the province’s Justice Accelerated Strategy is a “formalization” of the government’s efforts in “breaking down barriers and speeding up services,” says Attorney General Doug Downey. The plan also includes enhancing the capacity for remote court hearings to northern, rural and Indigenous communities, expanding provincewide the digital document sharing platform Caselines and widening online filing services for civil and family claims.
The Ministry will launch the digital case-management and dispute resolution system in the Landlord and Tenant Board, sometime this summer. British Columbia has been using the tool that Ontario plans to implement, says Downey.
“We're building on experience in the B.C. tribunals,” he says. “They have a really excellent product. Back last January – actually, before COVID – I had a chat with the Attorney General of B.C., and we struck a deal to be able to use that product as a base and bring it to Ontario.”
“The benefits of it are demonstrated through the four years of experience that B.C. has. It's easier for people to access. It creates resolutions at a much higher rate and much faster, prior to a hearing, if a hearing is needed at all. So, it's really a different way of doing business, which dovetails perfectly with some of the other things that we've been doing.”
The Progressive Conservative government has proposed consolidating Ontario’s five land tribunals. The proposal is part of the Accelerating Access to Justice Act and would create the Ontario Land Tribunal, which would handle all matters that currently go before the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, Environmental Review Tribunal, Board of Negotiation, Conservation Review Board and the Mining and Lands Tribunal.
"The matters heard at tribunals touch Ontarians' lives in many ways, and this new case management system will help advance our commitment to fair and accessible dispute resolution in a more user-friendly manner," said Tribunals Ontario Executive Chair Sean Weir. "As demands on Ontario's tribunals continue to evolve and escalate, this ambitious innovation will help reduce wait times and address the current case backlogs for the thousands of people who rely on tribunals to resolve their disputes each year."
The Ministry is also working on increasing the availability of remote court hearings in rural, Northern and Indigenous communities, says Downey. The province is spending $1.3 million on new laptops, conference lines and portable digital recording devices. Since March 2020, 66,000 matters have proceeded remotely, including all hearings for in-custody accused, said the Ministry.
“We're working on northern and rural court matters to make it more accessible for them. And, of course, technology is a huge piece of that… We're working with several indigenous communities to make sure that, again, they have the resources they need to minimize having to leave their community to create opportunities for resolution faster and cheaper to make it more accessible.”
Justice Accelerated Strategy is a part of a larger provincial agenda called Ontario Onwards: Ontario's COVID-19 Action Plan for a People-Focused Government. Most of the modernization initiatives formalized in the plan have been introduced in the last several months. Many were first launched to contend with COVID restrictions. The government has expanded online court filings with the Justice Services Online platform and expanded the digital document sharing platform Caselines for litigation. The Accelerating Access to Justice Act would allow for the virtual witnessing of wills and powers of attorney.
“The courthouse of the future is client facing, its user facing, it's designing and putting tools in place for people to access that space,” says Downey. “And traditionally, courthouses have not been designed with the public in mind, as much as they should have.”