In a cost-saving move, the Alberta courts are moving to stop posting judgments on their web sites. Instead, users will have to find them on CanLII. Speaking to the Calgary Herald, Alberta courts spokeswoman Michelle Somers said the judgment database is no longer as necessary as it once was given the alternatives such as CanLII. She said the courts aren’t reducing staff but noted the move would allow employees to focus on other tasks.
Law librarians are questioning the move, however. Shaunna Mireau, chairwoman of the Edmonton Law Libraries Association, says while the change may make sense from a financial perspective, it will mean a delay in getting decisions through CanLII versus the current system.
“I certainly have heard comments from lawyers that I work with about how this was going to negatively affect them,” says Mireau.
“Sometimes, two days can make a big difference,” she adds, citing the need for lawyers to have the most updated case information when presenting their arguments. She has heard the biggest impact will be on criminal defence lawyers seeking the latest judgments from the provincial court.
“They want sentencing decisions from yesterday if they can get them.”
The abruptness of the move — Mireau says she first heard about it from a lawyer last week — has also taken the legal community by surprise. Already, the Court of Queen’s Bench and the provincial court are redirecting people to CanLII while the Alberta Court of Appeal still maintains its online search function.
Mireau’s understanding is the public will no longer have access to the court’s database as of Jan. 19.
“Two days is not a huge deal for most, but some consultation would have been nice,” she says, noting a lot of lawyers and law firms will have to scramble to update their links to decisions on their own web sites and intranets that use court ones that are about to disappear.
The courts, however, says people will continue to have timely access to judgments.
"CanLII and other legal publishers continue to receive judgments from the courts via a daily automated e-mail," said court spokeswoman Michelle Somers.
"In most instances, CanLII has judgments available on its site within two hours of receiving them. Posting of judgments by CanLII will often be more timely than what was feasible by albertacourts.ca because our site required manual posting and overnight indexing for the search engine."
There are also questions about how much money the change really will save given the suggestion that the courts will still be maintaining the database of decisions for internal purposes.
“It was a big surprise,” says Mireau.
Update 4:30 pm: Comments from Alberta Courts added.