The Alberta Courts Go Digital

Alberta Courts Go Digital

As legal professionals, the Hoffman Law team has been updated from the Law Society of Alberta, Canadian Bar Association, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers Association, and others.

But the updates we have kept the closest eye on have been from the Alberta Courts. Court is where we take our cases when negotiation fails, Court is the last chance for justice when parties cannot resolve their disputes through other channels.

With the current Court lockdown, we are learning to do things differently. It is an old legal saying that “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done”. [1] Because of its great importance, the law Courts have always been public courts, places where anyone can go to scrutinize the process by which the unresolvable disputes are finally resolved.

Since March 15, 2020, the Court of Queen’s Bench has been limited in what it is able to hear, automatically adjourning all regularly scheduled hearings and triaging the disputes that are emergencies or are urgent. [2] The Provincial Court adjourned its hearings for 10 weeks. [3]

The Court of Appeal, however, moved all hearings to telephone and video conference immediately. [4] The Court of Appeal was further ahead of Queen’s Bench and Provincial Court in the process of digital upgrading that has been going on across court systems throughout the world.

Alberta’s Courts are catching up, streamlining technology plans and innovating new approaches. Most notably, the Courts have been setting up and testing WebEx, Cisco’s videoconferencing solution. Several hearings – affecting the rights of Albertans in both civil and criminal matters – have already been held.

In less than two months, the legal profession in Alberta can now complete a large number of administrative tasks (filing, submitting Desk Applications) electronically, have a wider range of disputes decided by summary methods, and, now, can seek the Justice in Her Majesty’s Courts… via webcam.

Technology fans will see this as the evolutionary next step of the internet. Legal minds will also see the continued “Culture Shift”, noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Hryniak v Mauldin, 2014 SCC 7. The Culture Shift is an acknowledgment of the legitimacy of alternative forms of dispute resolution. The Culture Shift recognizes that parties often face a dichotomy of either pursuing their rights in a process that is disproportionately expensive for the significance of the dispute, or giving up their rights entirely.

The internet has been leveling the playing field and empowering the people for three decades. A level playing field and empowered people are what courts have been working on for three millennia. We have tried to create the fairest system possible, but as the Supreme Court pointed out, fairness requires accessibility.

We have challenging times ahead of us because of this Pandemic. But hopefully, as the Courts go digital in response, access to law will be one thing that becomes a little easier.

Contact Hoffman Law to talk to one of our talented lawyers about your legal situation.