Virtual court? Some Ont. lawyers want to keep it that way

The pandemic has forced millions of court cases to go virtual over the past two years, a necessity to keep the wheel of justice moving.

Now, a group of family attorneys in Ontario want virtual hearings to become the norm.

More than 1,000 attorneys have signed a petition demanding that all court appearances “be presumed virtual unless the parties and their attorneys agree otherwise.”

“This technology allows people to access the justice system easily from home,” Russell Alexander, a lawyer who supports the idea, told CTV News.

Lawyers say remote court saves them time, lowers client bills, and improves access to justice for people with disabilities or other barriers to calls. directly meeting.

“Virtual is one of the very few advantages we have gained from this pandemic, so let’s not go against it,” said Nafisa Nazarali, another lawyer who supports the idea.

As COVID-19 restrictions in courts have begun to be lifted nationwide, many judges are empowered to decide on a case-by-case basis if proceedings are held in person, remotely or in combination.

But while some attorneys are championing the remote court, others say we shouldn’t overlook the drawbacks.

Criminal defense attorney Michael Spratt said that despite the merits of appearing in court remotely, some lower-income clients would be at a disadvantage if virtual became the default setting.

“Requiring virtual proceedings in such cases can essentially [emphasize] Spratt said.

“Balance is the exact word we need to use.”

It is a well-known fact that imperfect technology can also slow down court proceedings.

Currently, large backlogs at Ontario’s Landlord Board mean disputes can drag on for months or even years due to delays in hearings.

When they do happen, these hearings are mostly held, but they can exacerbate communication problems between two parties that are already in disagreement, with both tenants and landlords sometimes making excuses. are technology issues to avoid answering questions or fully participating in the hearing.

And some worry that the lack of face-to-face interaction could affect the outcome of the hearings.

Tenant Lea Donaldson recently fought an eviction. But she worries that if she ends up having to fight her landlord in court, it will just go through a computer, hindering her ability to communicate.

“I won’t be able to present myself as well as I would when I met face-to-face,” Donaldson said.

Even as courtrooms are grappling with resolving legal issues remotely, the provinces are investing.

Ontario, for example, has promised $65 million to upgrade video conferencing training and technology.

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