The Canadian courts were slow, backed up, and inefficient before the coronavirus struck.
Now, with juries impossible, courtrooms largely closed, and cases deferred, it has ground to a near-complete halt.
And yet, other businesses have found ways around the lack of in-person meetings. On Tuesday last week, even Parliament, that august and powerful institution, met virtually for the first time in its history.
The Canadian court system needed to consider new ways of doing things before. We hope that the restrictions imposed by the pandemic can break it out of its self-imposed shackles.
If you haven’t visited a court in a while, you might be surprised by how few trials actually take place. Multiple courtrooms, judges, lawyers, court clerks and sheriffs are instead kept busy with scheduling, and with multiple pre-trial appearances (only a handful of which result in any change to the status of the case or defendant).
Why does any of this need to take place in a courthouse? Much of it is important for records and scheduling, but at present, it requires at least half a dozen people to drag themselves down to a specific building, at a specific time, for what is often a five-minute conversation.
Why can’t this be done via email? Or if not by email, via Zoom or Microsoft. Teams, or maybe Discord (the judges could spend some time playing World of Warcraft in between court sessions).
The fact that none of this is necessary is driven home by the fact that the accused – in many ways the most important person required to be present – is often the only one who is “in court” via video link.
The courts need to take a page from Parliament.
Yes, there will be technical challenges – but we’ll never sort them out if we keep justice stuck in the 19th century.