In 2015, members of the Court of Appeal began a project that would digitize the filing of factums. On their behalf, OpenRoad Communications consulted with the Bar, administrative assistants, organizations representing self-represented litigants (SRLs) and lawyers, and they found that while e-filing factums would be a welcome change, members could go further: they could digitize the process for bringing an appeal.
People, especially SRLs, usually face difficulties when filing notices of appeal — once an order is given, a party typically has 30 days to bring an appeal by preparing and submitting a form. Once filed, if any part of the form is incorrect, the party would have to apply for an extension of time or their claim would be denied. Those unfamiliar with court procedures generally struggle with meeting the deadline due to the time and effort required. The groups that were consulted wanted something that would alleviate some of the stress associated with bringing an appeal.
The project, going forward, was to develop a system that could draw case information automatically from the lower court. It would reduce the amount of information a party would need to fill in the notice of appeal, and it would also reduce the possibility of filing errors. By making the process faster and reducing the chances of files being rejected due to mistakes, parties could more easily meet the 30 day deadline. Change was underway in the justice system to make it more accessible to people.
Collaboration was key. The Court of Appeal, Court Services, filing agents and many others worked together to develop the system. Over several months, OpenRoad, the developer, brought all the groups together and prototyped the system, tweaking it based on feedback. When the system was developed, it still faced a significant obstacle — it had to gain acceptance among those in the industry.
Change in an industry with long-lasting traditions can be difficult. There is less familiarity with technology, and antiquated procedures can become entrenched habits. Furthermore, this system would impact many members of the Court of Appeal, from judges to clerks and staff. Despite the benefits of automation and improved efficiency, the system would not be adopted if it alienated members.
Currently, this system has not yet officially launched — it is still in its beta-testing phase. It is not working perfectly at the moment, but the government is working on the issues, preparing for an official launch in the future. Though feedback has been promising, there is still a risk that it may not be successfully adopted. However, this is a risk worth taking.
If this project is successful, not only would it help SRLs, lawyers and other stakeholders, but it could inspire others in the legal industry to rethink the status quo. There are more processes that can be optimized, and there are more ways to make the justice system more accessible. Whatever perceptions one may have of the justice system as it currently stands, there are people in it who are actively trying to improve it, not only for themselves, but for the public as well.