The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on justice systems worldwide: Court closures, trial delays, case backlogs, and generally diminished access to justice for all.
The Global Access to Justice Project found that only 8% of justice systems around the world have continued to operate normally. 78% have seen courts adopt special measures to avoid face-to-face contact, and 53% have used video conferencing for court hearings.
And that’s where the silver lining comes in. The Canadian Bar Association’s Task Force Report on Justice Issues Arising from COVID-19 has revealed its findings, and has noted, quite accurately, that for Canada, the pandemic has “propelled the justice system into a long-awaited modernization,” defined by digital and remote access technologies. And from this, the task force urges, there is “no turning back.”
The use of these innovations, though, according to the CBA, must be administered and graduated in a controlled and sustainable way, so that those who need it most are served. They note, as well, some unintended adverse effects on access to justice, such as with self-represented individuals and marginalized groups, who, for instance, might not have access to some of the new electronic aids. The CBA calls for the new technology to be used as a “targeted aide, not as a crutch to defer to mindlessly.”
With that, here are some of the task force’s key recommendations:
- All dispute resolution bodies should permanently implement electronic filings, as well as remote proceedings (either video, online or phone) for settlement conferences, examinations for discovery, hearings, motions, trials and appeals.
- Best Practices for Video Conferencing should be established, along with “robust practices and procedures to safeguard sensitive data”, including an examination of how other industries are succeeding in protecting sensitive customer data (i.e. financial and health industries).
- Dispute resolution bodies should consider regulating private remote technology platforms, and even explore the possibility, in the long term, of developing their own platforms.
- Access to Justice for marginalized groups must be strongly considered when implementing emerging technologies, to ensure they are not adversely affected, and training for these groups on using new technologies should be established.
- A “Justice Innovation Champion” should be appointed by the federal government to ensure that justice can be delivered remotely to all provincial and territorial governments.
Minimizing the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has actually spurred the Canadian justice system into the technological age, a change that’s been long overdue. These new innovations will help provide ways and means for speedier and less-costly access to justice, for all. And once we have that, there is, indeed, no turning back.