No app for that

Lawyers are inconvenienced by the antiquated document management system within our Courts
Lawyers are inconvenienced by the antiquated document management system within our Courts

 An hour’s delay and some missing documents proved to be the final straw for Ontario Superior Court Justice David Brown this past spring. The glitches spurred him to launch into a Clarence Darrow–esque tirade in his decision on a condo sale case.

“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,” laments Brown. “Delays caused by our antiquated, wholly inadequate document management system impose unnecessary, but all too real, costs.”

Brown’s refreshingly candid opinion highlights an old problem. In Precedent’s Fall 2011 issue, we reported that the Ministry of the Attorney General had squandered hundreds of millions of dollars developing an online court system (“Ontario Government vs. the 21st Century”), and had little to show for it. Nothing has changed since then.

“Justice Brown’s comments were the first honest look at what’s going on at the Ministry,” says Greg Azeff, a corporate and insolvency specialist with Pallett Valo LLP and former president of Court Canada. The company developed the Online System for Court Attendance Reservations (OSCAR) in 2007, and is now embroiled in a lawsuit against the Ministry over an alleged breach of contract.

Azeff expects the case, launched in July 2010, to be heard within a year.

OSCAR ran until November 2011. “Not a day goes by when I don’t hear from someone who’s frustrated at not having OSCAR anymore,” says Azeff.

Kim Whaley, of Whaley Estate Litigation, says, “It used to be really easy, and now we have to attend personally, or send a process server.” Whaley has noticed delays in other aspects of her practice, including lists not going up and, like Justice Brown, properly filed documents going missing.

The Ministry has long been promising to go digital with the launch of the Court Information Management System (CIMS) but the system still has not gone live.

Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, describes CIMS as the “next step in a plan to modernize courts technology.” He says that it will launch this year, but couldn’t be more specific.

Azeff doubts CIMS will ever launch. “The technology is available,” he says. “It’s one of two things: either they lack the will to get it done, or the competence.”

Get wired already
Some excerpts from Justice Brown’s humourously scathing decision:

“The consequences of that one hour delay? On my part, none. I picked up a latte at Starbucks. A most mellow approach, but I have learned that as matters presently stand, one cannot fight the city hall bureaucracy that is the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General.”

“What if our Court had an electronic case management system which recorded that certain documents had been filed and sealed in a proceeding? And what if our Court had a system under which documents were filed electronically and accessible through a web-based system, with sealed documents specially encrypted to limit access to judges only?”

“Yes, Virginia, somewhere, someone must have created such a system, and perhaps some time, 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.”