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Gavel , computer keyboard and mouse (Comstock/Getty Images/Comstock Images)

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Judge bashes Ontario's archaic court document system Add to ...

The outside world has been downloading movies, books and music for years, but Ontario’s cloistered court system remains mired in the antiquarian age. And at least one Toronto judge has had enough.

In a March 15 decision on the affairs of an insolvent Ottawa condo developer, Mr. Justice David Brown of the Ontario Superior Court launched into an unusually blunt rant after it took an aide an hour to find documents that had been previously filed with the court.

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. The problem is that from the perspective of the members of the public who use this Court, delays caused by our antiquated, wholly-inadequate document management system impose unnecessary, but all too real, costs on them.

And the consequences of that one hour delay? On my part, none. I walked across the plaza, picked up a latte at Starbucks, came back and continued working on a reserve from yesterday. 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.

But the consequences to the litigant? A delay of one hour, involving the expenditure of additional counsel time, higher legal fees.

The real solution? Consign our paper-based document management system to the scrap heap of history and equip this Court with a modern, electronic document system.

Yes, Virginia, somewhere, someone one must have created such a system, and perhaps some time, in an 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.

If some may consider such criticism un-judicial in tone, I make no apology for the language used. The state of this Court’s document management and case scheduling systems is a scandal, and the poor excuse of a system which currently is employed should be subject to relentless criticism – judicial and otherwise - until it is discarded and the people of this province are provided by the provincial government with a court administration system of a quality which they deserve.

In response to request for comment about the judge’s remarks, a spokeswoman for Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General said in an e-mail that work continues on a new system that, in “future phases,” will allow “e-filing and electronic document management.”

“The ministry continues to consult with the judiciary and other justice system partners to develop a strategy to incrementally move away from paper,” spokeswoman Marya Winter wrote. “Modernizing the court system and reducing the amount of paper in the courts is the shared goal of all users of the system.”

– Jeff Gray; the judge’s decision has been condensed and edited.

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Follow on Twitter: @jeffreybgray

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