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August 11, 2020   

Ontario Courts updating online infrastructures to accommodate COVID-19 needs for safety

Howard Borlack
Howard Borlack

by Conner Sipa and Howard Borlack

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, courts in Ontario have been working to modify existing online infrastructures and acquire new technologies in order to meet the needs of Ontarians and to maintain the safety of those who work in the courts. In doing so, the Ministry of the Attorney General ("MAG") has recently expanded the Justice Services Online platform and procured "CaseLines" for the use of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Expansion of Justice Services Online

The Justice Services Online platform allows Ontarians, and their legal counsel, to e-file documents related to civil actions or applications or family proceedings. As of August 5, 2020, Justice Services Online has been expanded to allow for the submission of nearly 400 types of civil and family court documents through the newly created "Civil Submissions Online" and "Family Submissions Online". Prior to this expansion, parties had to e-mail their files to a generic court e-mail address or file in-person. With the introduction of the new portals, parties will be able to upload many more documents for review by court staff and will be notified via e-mail whether their documents have been accepted for filing or issuance. Unfortunately, the portals cannot yet be used to request an urgent hearing or to send documents for court dates that are 5 business days or fewer in the future. For the time being, those time-sensitive documents must still be e-mailed to the relevant generic e-mail address(es).

MAG Procurement of CaseLines for the use of the Superior Court of Justice

CaseLines is a cloud-based document sharing and storage platform which can be used for remote and in-person court proceedings. The platform was developed by Netmaster Solutions Ltd., a private limited company based in the United Kingdom, and is currently in use by courts around the globe. Especially useful, the platform allows users to upload materials of any size and file format, to make private notes and highlights on documents, to search terms in documents, and navigate documents and redirect opposing counsel and the court to specific sections.

According to a memorandum by Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz, beginning on August 10, 2020, a two-week pilot phase will begin at the 330 University Avenue courthouse in Toronto. During that pilot, certain civil motions and pre-trial conferences will be selected to use CaseLines. Counsel designated to appear in those matters will be contacted and provided training in advance of their hearing. Beginning on August 24, the pilot will be expanded to all Toronto civil, Divisional Court, Commercial and Estate List, and bankruptcy matters. Sometime after, the use of CaseLines will be incrementally expanded to all Superior Courts of Justice in the province (further communication is expected later in August). It is expected that CaseLines will be implemented province-wide by the end of the year.

How do these Services Interact?

The end goal of MAG's work is to have an end-to-end e-filing system which allows for the single upload of documents to one platform. However, for the time being, counsel and self-represented parties will be required to upload their documents to both the Justice Services Online platform (or file in-person, or via the generic e-mails, as their situation requires) and to upload their documents to CaseLines in advance of their hearing.

If you have any questions regarding the above information, please contact Howard Borlack at 416.860.0054.


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