“Kill the fax machine!” Lawyers on Promoting Efficiency in Criminal Courts

Twitter improve justice systemOn October 24, 2018, Sean Robichaud tweeted at lawyers asking the following question:

“Lawyers, if you had the power to change one thing (specific or general, small or large) to make the justice system more efficient, what would it be? I’m meeting with stakeholders on this issue soon so your input might actually influence change…”

Members of the Ontario bar came out in droves to answer his question. This blog post is a curation of the suggestions as they relate to the criminal law.

In-person set-dates, rolled-in TVs, and fax machines, oh my

An overwhelming number of the lawyers who responded urged for change in the realm of “set date court.” Erin Durant, Lisa Feldstein, Andrew Bigioni, Christine Ashton, Ari Singer, Jeremy Martin, Robin Parker, Anne-Marie McElroy, Paul Doroshenko and Molly Reynolds all suggested getting rid of routine in-person set date appearances, perhaps in favour of an online system or uncontested scheduling appearances by phone. As Alison Craig quips, “Yesterday I spent 5 hours in the car for a 5 minute court appearance to set a JPT date. We should be able to do such things electronically.”

Ryan Duquette wants to digitize courtrooms for ease of evidence that is presented in digital form. Many courtrooms are not set up to properly present it. A rolled-in TV just won’t do.

legal changes court efficiency ontario

Similarly, Erin Durant, Alison Southern, Derek Anderson, Kathryn Manning, Jeremy Martin, Sarah Molyneaux, Dave Shellnutt, and Lisa Jorgensen suggested that there should be an online filing option for all documents. Despite it being 2018 – many forms still have to be submitted in person or by fax. This wastes lawyers’ time, clients’ money, and everyone’s sanity (who else hears the whirring sound of a fax machine in their nightmares?)

Stephanie Heyens said that in summary election cases, disclosure should be provided within 60 days or the Officer in Charge of the case must be asked to attend court to explain the delay to a judge. In the same vein, Alice Barton points out that the inefficiencies involved in administrative tasks are incalculable. She says, “Crown not ready to confirm trial date? Come back another day for 4 mins of time of: 1 judge, 2 clerks, 1 reporter, 1 Crown, 1 duty counsel, 1 officer, and private counsel who has no other need to be at that court.”

More efficiency in decision-making, please!

Lisa Feldstein says that scheduling 10 or more matters at the same time slot – as often happens in criminal courts – is inefficient. Nic Wall suggested staggering them in categorized time slots, with routine matters in the first slots, and then more substantial motions later. Chris Sewrattan recommends scheduling unrepresented accused persons to be heard at least 30 minutes after the start of counsel matters. He says, “It makes no sense that accused persons across Toronto (at least) have to wait 30 minutes every time they come on time for remand court.”

Jeremy Martin emphasized the need for more decision-makers: “If judges and masters had enough courtroom coverage to take the reading time they require in chambers every week, we could easily cut time spent on oral submissions in half.” Jason Hynes agreed. To help facilitate this, Tyler Cole suggests that every courtroom in every courthouse should have a judge sitting in it from 9:30am to 4:30pm every day of the work week. Luckily there have been some strong appointments to the bench as of late, but not nearly as many as is arguably needed.

And James Camp suggested that judges’/masters’ schedules and available court time should be published online in real time. There could be a standby list for urgent and/or simple matters that could be heard on short notice when a judge’s list craters.

The justice system could use a lot of improvement – and it is our responsibility to do something about it

There is no doubt that the justice system – and in particular the criminal justice system – could use an overhaul. I hope that due to the push-back of lawyers like those featured in this post, we will eventually see the improvements that are needed to make the justice system more just.