Ontario Superior Court Justice David Brown evoked the famed editorial “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” in launching yet another scathing attack on the backwardness of Ontario courts’ technology. This time he took aim at the court’s document management system.
Writing in Romspen Investment Corp. v. 6176666 Canada Ltée. last week, Brown doesn’t mess around diving right in at the beginning of his decision with the heading: “Just how broken is the document management system of the Superior Court of Justice?” And the bar has been buzzing about his comments since Thursday.
Paragraph 1 then is as follows:
I suppose that on a sunny, unusually warm, mid-March day one should be mellow and accept, without complaint, the systemic failures and delay of this Court's document management system. The problem is that from the perspective of the members of the public who use this Court, delays caused by our antiquated, wholly-inadequate document management system impose unnecessary, but all too real, costs on them. And yet the entity that operates that part of the Court's administration system – the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General – seems completely indifferent to the unnecessary costs it is causing to the members of the public who use our Court.
Brown recounts the tale of a receiver that was seeking to introduce appraisals related to several Ottawa condo units during motions to approve the sale of some properties. With a sale set to close on Thursday, the receiver noted it had previously filed the sealed appraisals with the court. But in heading to the motion before Brown last week, the appraisals weren’t available to the court.
According to Brown, a “two-track process then unfolded.” He directed his staff to go to the office that had the sealed documents. That took an hour. In the meantime, the receiver’s counsel was able to get copies of the appraisals from her office. That also took an hour. The result, Brown noted, was added time for counsel, higher legal fees, increased costs related to the receivership, and a reduction in recovery for the creditors.
In his view, it shouldn’t have been that way. “The real solution? Consign our paper-based document management system to the scrap heap of history and equip this court with a modern, electronic document system,” he wrote.
But, of course, Brown isn’t overly optimistic about that happening any time soon. “Yes, Virginia, somewhere, someone must have created such a system, and perhaps sometime, in another decade or so, rumours of such a possibility may waft into the paper-strewn corridors of the court services division of the Ministry of the Attorney General and a slow awakening may occur.”
In response to such concerns, the ministry refers to its planned court information management system as proof that it’s on top of the issue. When exactly that’ll happen is unclear. According to a document on the project on the Canadian Centre for Court Technology’s web site, the government has big plans. User training is to begin this spring, it noted. But there’s no firm date for the subsequent phased implementation of the new system. So while Virginia got the answer she wanted so long ago, Ontario lawyers and judges may still have to wait a while yet for their gift from the government.