Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Manitoba Dinosaur Law Courts

Good Day Readers:

Having spent much time trolling the hallways of Manitoba's Law Courts here's our suggestions for moving it from the Jurassic Era to the Electronic Age while making it a much more user friendly place. And the best part of all? It won't cost an arm and a leg. In no particular order:

(1) For God's sake wear a wire!
How many times have you been in a courtroom and couldn't hear the proceedings? Why because you're facing counsels' back who may be mumbling and/or standing too far away from their desk microphones. Then there are  judges who mumble or sit side saddle oblivious/impervious their microphone is out of range. How open are the Courts if you can't hear?

Best Judges: Provincial Judge Kelly Moar and Queen's Bench Justice Richard T. Saull.What a welcomed change to enter their courtrooms and be able to hear everything.

Worst: Too numerous to mention.

Best Lawyer: There are a few but Tim "The Contortionist" Killeen stands out. Never seen another counsel who could find 50-different ways to sit in one of those cold, hard Queen's Bench chairs. He doesn't sit in a chair he surrounds it. Also, very good about answering questions before, after and during breaks in a proceeding:

Worst Lawyer: OMG, there are so many!

(2) Get television cameras into courtrooms. In this the age of increasing self-reps, it's a very effective education/learning tool. Judges have the final say during proceedings so courtrooms can be cleared during particularly graphic testimony of violent crimes that has no socially redeeming value, identities that must be protected - whatever. The Law Courts area far, far behind the 8 ball on this one.
(3) Put the Daily Docket online. If your're contemplating a visit to The Law Courts try to find what's on the docket. Oh for sure, you can call Queen's Bench in the morning before setting out but forget it! Even if you are lucky enough to get through on the first try, chances are you'll hear someone say, "Sorry, Sir, we don't have that information.

And while we're at it, explain the acronyms that frequently appear on the Daily Docket. Lay persons out there quick, "What's a JADR or SCC or SENT or SPT or CIM or .....?" Which are open to the public which are not? Don't know do we? Try asking one of the clerks you say? It's not unusual at all to have them politely look at you to say, "I'm sorry, Sir, I don't know?" Exactly our point!

Dinosaurs, find a way to display this information both at The Law Courts and especially online.

(4) Law Courts, the business model you're using is broken. Collectively there's a lot of brain power at 408 York Avenue why isn't it be fully utilized? Rather than waiting for Manitoba's Attorney General advised by bureaucrats to set your gold standard, you take the initiative by developing a new judicially responsible driven model. Do that and the self-administration will follow much like day after night

(5) Replace your antiquated paper-based document driven system that's slowly choking you with an e-one. Ever been at File Registry on a Monday morning when the legal assistants for BigLaw arrive with their suitcases (No joke!) full of documents being filed while you patiently wait in line do do a simple transaction that might take all of say 2-minutes?

While we're at it, why can't statements of claim and defence, affidavits, motions, to name a few,
not be filed online?

(6) Why can't court scheduling be done electronically rather than making a telephone call likely getting a message or having to leave one?    
So Dinosaurs, you're at The Law Courts 8/5/52 surely you must have some even better ideas so why not put on your thinking caps to make our next trip to the courthouse a little more user friendly - capiche?

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk
Modernizing 'dinosaur' courts
Wish list to improve the justice system in Ontario


By Christin Schmitz
June15, 2012 Issue
Lawyer Heather Pringle, outside a Superior Court building in Toronto says Ontario courts need a technology upgrade. (Photo by Brett Gundlock for the Lawyers Weekly)

The next deputy attorney general in Ontario will face an outdated court system that cries out to be modernized during a fiscal crunch.

The province is looking for someone to fill the pivotal leadership in the ministry, following the retirement of Murray Segal on May 31. What is certain is that Segal’s successor faces pressing challenges in overseeing the administration of the courts.

The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General had a $1.44-billion budget in the 2010-2011 fiscal year and nearly a third of that cost, or $409 million, was allocated to its courts services division, according to figures released in the annual public accounts.

Yet, the administration of the courts has come from under fire in recent years from justice participants at every level.

“Ontario is a dinosaur in the area of technology, and the rationale for failing to keep up with the times is that the old way is just the way things were always done — ​that mindset must change,” said Heather Pringle, chair of the criminal practice committee of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

For advice on what they think needs to be done to improve the efficiency of the courts, The Lawyers Weekly contacted practitioners, judges, experts and legal organizations.

The most sweeping suggestion came from a member of the judiciary: Replace Ontario’s outdated “executive model” of court administration with a more nimble and close-to-the ground judge-led, professionally-managed independent court services agency.

“In almost every other enlightened Western country, courts have become self-administered,” said Ontario Superior Court Justice Colin McKinnon.

“The beauty of that is, in tough times, at least the courts can then, as they’ve done in Ireland, identify their own priorities — ​rather than having priorities identified by an Attorney General advised by bureaucrats,” he said.

Fully implementing a “judicial responsibility” model — ​judges already have some budgetary control under memoranda of understanding with the government — ​would be a fairly radical departure for Ontario. But the strategy of judges exercising significant autonomy in budgets and administrative decision-making has been successfully test driven abroad and in some Canadian jurisdictions, including Quebec and at the Supreme Court of Canada.

As the national voice of the 39 chief and associate chief justices of the federally-appointed courts, the Canadian Judicial Council in 2007 rolled out a model “judicial responsibility” law that offers Ontario and other provinces a possible road map.

“Self-administration will come,” predicted Justice McKinnon, who sits on the CJC’s Efficiency in Trial and Appellate Courts Committee. “Maybe not in my judicial lifetime, but it will eventually occur in every province, within the next 25 [or] 30 years.”

In the meantime, it falls to the next deputy attorney general to spearhead the modernization of Ontario’s court administration.

A top priority is replacing the antiquated, paper-based document management system with an electronic system.

“The fact that there can’t be e-filings in our system is embarrassing,” said Mark Lerner, past-president of the Advocates’ Society.

“If we can do extraordinarily complex pieces of commercial litigation involving literally tens of thousands of documents electronically, surely to goodness we can manage filings of statements of claim and defences, and motion records electronically,” said Lerner, a civil litigator with Lerners in London. “We should [also] be able to organize the court scheduling electronically.”

That view was echoed by the author of an influential 2007 Ontario government-commissioned report on civil justice reforms.

“I think it’s fairly obvious from comments such as those that were made by Justice David Brown…that we have got to move into the 21st century,” said Coulter Osborne, a former Associate Chief Justice of Ontario. “The present system will just grind to an administrative halt because we can’t process the paper.”

While finances may be tight, it is a matter of short-term pain for long-term gain, Osborne said.

“It just can’t be that the justice system, almost alone in the world of commerce, is not storing and recording documents electronically.”

As part of its Court Information Management System initiative, the province says it is first completing development of internal systems to improve courts’ workflow, scheduling and financial management. Eventually, a technical platform for electronic document management and services such as e-filing is planned, but the ministry did not provide a timeline.

Another priority is building and renovating courthouses, including Toronto’s bursting-at-the-seams main courthouse at 361 University Ave., said the Advocates’ Society and the County and District Law Presidents’ Association (CDLPA).

They and the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) also insist that the successful 35-year-old unified family court model (UFC), which currently exists in 17 Ontario locations, must at long last be adopted province-wide (a proposal so far rejected by the federal and provincial governments, who contend they can only afford to expand the court incrementally).

“A single unified court would simplify the court process [with] one set of forms rather than two, achieve savings and efficiencies through the use of one court system, and ensure that UFCs would be presided over by judges with a strong commitment and expertise in family law matters,” said CDLPA’s chair Michael Johnston of Stewart-Corbett in Brockville.

CDLPA and the OBA also urge the government to reduce the number of forms and procedural steps in civil and family cases. Rule 48.14 status hearings should be eliminated, practitioners say, because the hearings are inefficient and unnecessarily burden judges and court staff.

“In this economy, the deputy A-G can also play an important role, alongside other [provincial] ministries, in ensuring that regulations and legislation accomplish their consumer protection goals, without unnecessarily deterring people from investing and doing business in Ontario,” added OBA president Paul Sweeny.

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