Justice Canada needs to take processes to a virtual level

  • May 25, 2020

It’s time for all actors in the justice system to adapt to the new realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic, if the system is to serve those seeking justice.

In a letter to Justice Canada, the CBA’s Federal Courts Bench and Bar Committee notes that the Federal Court has said it is willing and able to proceed with virtual hearings and electronic filings for certain matters as long as all parties are able.

Justice Canada, which is a party in most Federal Court hearings, faces technical challenges in working remotely. Many necessary documents are on paper and in federal government offices, which are difficult to access safely.

“We are troubled by the prolonged disruption,” the Committee writes. “We fear a crippling backlog could develop if the suspension continues and Justice Canada remains unable to access the necessary files and properly prepare for hearings.”

The Committee notes that other government agencies and boards have been able to transition to electronic-based litigation protocols, and members of the private bar are also enhancing their technological capabilities. The CBA has also written to the Immigration and Refugee Board, as well as the Canadian Border Services Agency, to ask that they do more to facilitate remote hearings.

A lengthy disruption of activities could have a profound impact on access to justice by compromising the financial circumstances of applicants and the viability of law firms, including smaller firms and sole practitioners, which in turn could make it harder to find a lawyer and thus create more self-represented litigants when regular operations resume.

“While we are also encouraged by the temporary e-service measures recently introduced by Justice Canada, this does not resolve our concerns. Justice Canada is an important participant in court processes and must be given the technical support and means necessary to implement more comprehensive virtual practices.”