Modernization initiatives piloted during COVID-19 a boon for access to justice: Herscu

By Kirsten McMahon  

Several court modernization projects conducted in Ontario have been trying to keep the system moving and are promising for access to justice, says Easy Legal Group of Companies President and CEO Larry Herscu.

“I think that some of these pilot projects are a much-needed step in the right direction,” he says. “When COVID-19 hit, closures of courts just accentuated the challenges the system was already facing.” 

One project rolled out by the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) — called CaseLines — started as a two-week test of a cloud-based document sharing and storage platform during some in-person and remote civil motions and pre-trial conferences. It was then rolled out to include all civil, divisional court, commercial and estates lists and bankruptcy matters.

Law Times reports that “the platform allows the user to upload files of any size and format, make notes, highlight text and search terms. Users can make private notes, automatically redact sections and direct opposing counsel and the judge to particular parts of the document.”

The article also notes other modernization projects and measures in the province’s justice system as a result of the global pandemic, including: 

  • An expansion of the Justice Services Online platform, allowing e-filing for around 400 new family and civil case documents;
  • An emergency order that permitted the virtual witnessing of wills and estates, which has since been extended and may be made permanent;
  • Virtualized notarization and commissioning, allowing documents to be signed and identities verified online.

Attorney General Doug Downey tells the legal publication the feedback so far has been positive and “the experience in other jurisdictions is that it helps deal with the volume of courts and helps bring resolution and allows us to do fewer hearings on a particular matter.” 

There has also been a proposed legislative amendment that would eliminate some or all civil jury trials in Ontario to tackle the backlog exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, CTV News reports. 

As courts rapidly adapt their practices and procedures, many organizations — including The Advocates’ Society and the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association — are offering up-to-date information and resources about navigating e-filing and conducting remote mediations and examinations for discovery.

With more workplaces and schools opening across the province, Herscu says quickly adapting and learning new technologies is now a facet of everyday life. However, with many provinces reporting a surge in COVID-19 cases, we could be dealing with rollbacks related to permitted activities and openings.

“It’s important that any court modernization initiatives are not simply stop-gap or reactive measures,” Herscu says. 

“I hope that successful measures and projects are implemented for the long term, which could be of great benefit to plaintiffs who have long faced delays and a denial of access to justice,” he adds.

The Easy Legal Group of Companies is a Canadian litigation financing firm. Its lending solutions service the personal injury sector including plaintiffs with pending injury claims, their legal representatives and the service providers involved in their cases. The firm is registered to conduct business in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and the Atlantic provinces. Services are delivered through three brands: Easy Legal Finance Inc., Rhino Legal Finance and Seahold Legal Finance.