Message from the CBA President

  • June 10, 2020

Dear CBA Members,

COVID-19 has highlighted many cracks in the justice system from the use of technology to access to justice issues. The need to open up courtrooms via technology is a major issue that has emerged in the COVID-19 era. What you may not be aware of is that the Canadian Bar Association was on the cutting edge of the use of technology in courtrooms over 37 years ago. In 1983 we partnered with the Supreme Court of Canada in an experiment which saw counsel presenting applications for leave to appeal via satellite from a courtroom in Vancouver to the high court in Ottawa. It was a first. We hoped expanding the use of audio-visual technology would increase access to justice.

With Zoom, FaceTime and other apps, society has moved past complicated satellite hookups for distance communications, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the justice system as a whole. The current crisis has shown that the system needs meaningful reforms to better meet the day-to-day needs of people seeking to resolve their legal issues in both ordinary and extraordinary times.

I established the CBA Task Force on Justice Issues Arising from COVID-19 to assess the immediate and evolving issues for the delivery of legal services resulting from the pandemic. The Task Force has created a statement of principles that will guide it in its deliberations over the next few months. The work of the task force will focus on improving access for the people who are seeking justice – including self-represented litigants – and on the ability of the legal and justice systems to serve them while at the same time protecting the health and safety of all parties.

The Task Force members are conscious that any changes to the system must be effective, efficient and above all sustainable once the immediate crisis is over. The justice system cannot return to the past. Evolving transformation must protect the open-courts principle that underlies our system and need to be properly resourced.

Just as the pandemic crosses borders, so too does the CBA’s work on behalf of the legal profession. I was pleased to meet with my counterparts from the G7 countries earlier this month (virtually, of course). The presidents of the G7 bar associations discussed our ongoing responses to COVID-19 in our respective countries and benefited from sharing best practices.  

Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote in 1942 about “creative destruction” – a dismantling of the old to make way for the new. While no one would have wished for a devastating global pandemic, it could perhaps serve as the catalyst for creative dismantling of some of our historic legal traditions, to make way for innovative ideas to address long-standing challenges in the legal profession and justice system.

Vivene Salmon
CBA President