Changes May be Coming to Civil Proceedings

In my last blog post, I discussed the role of technology in improving the efficiency of our judicial system and increasing access to justice. For those of you who might not have watched the opening of the courts earlier this month, Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz highlighted the various challenges the courts we’re facing today and the improvements that were being made to tackle them. Some key takeaways included:

  1. Virtual hearings are now a permanent fixture for court proceedings.
  2. The Court’s information management system will soon be modernized. 

While the modernization and digitization of the existing system are significant, it is not enough to solve the court’s problems. Courts today are still understaffed and overbooked. Anyone who has visited the Civil Practice Court in Toronto over the last few weeks knows that dates for Long Motion Hearings aren’t even available until late Spring of 2023.

Delays and issues of access to justice were already at a breaking point even before the pandemic, so it’s not surprising why Chief Justice Morawetz identified civil proceedings as an area where major changes needed to be made. What did come as a surprise, was when he stated in no uncertain terms that the Rules of Civil Procedure would have to be overhauled.

Changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure aren’t new. Since the Rules came into effect, there have been many attempts to reform the Rules in an attempt to facilitate more accessible, more expeditious, and more cost-effective litigation. Given the current state of the court system, I think it’s safe to say that those attempts have not been successful.

While I’m cautiously optimistic, I recognize there are good reasons to remain skeptical. Meaningful change requires strong political will and a significant commitment of resources. New rules and systems won’t address the shortages of judges and staff in our court system and given the chronic underfunding of the courts in Ontario, it’s an open question as to whether the province is actually willing to commit the necessary resources to make sure the new system doesn’t end up as slow, expensive, and inaccessible as the old one.

As the process of overhauling the Rules begins over the next two years, it will be interesting to see what solutions the Courts come up with in the interim to address the current backlog. Chief Justice Morawetz is correct. The current situation cannot continue. So, whatever the case, I wish him success in his endeavour to shape the Court to be forward-facing, accessible, efficient, and modern.

Max H. Shin, Associate Lawyer