Prior to COVID 19, many lawyers (particularly millennials) would have described the Ontario civil justice system to have been stuck in the stone ages. Lawyers were still required to file all court documents and material in paper and were still sending faxes to one another to serve materials. Once the pandemic arose, and the courthouses and offices virtually closed, the Ontario government was forced to modernize and finally bring itself into the 21st century and embrace technology.
Within a relatively short period of time, the government established an online portal for e-filing civil court materials, pleadings and documents. But, this program only accepts documents of a certain size limit. This can make filing motion or application materials difficult, particularly if your PDF document contains coloured pictures/exhibits, highlighting and/or has been OCR’d to make the document searchable.
The other “kink” in the system is that the civil court staff must still review the documents that are being submitted. With the backlog of documents being submitted, and the challenge of the court staff while working from home, documents are not always “filed” on the date that they are submitted on E-File. It can take up to 5 business days before a document is “filed”. This can mean that filing deadlines are missed. Lawyers should therefore aim to file their materials at least five business days before the required filing deadline as set out in the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure
In addition, the government and the courts have made various Practice Directions to address new electronic methods of communication. These Practice Directions are now codified in the Rules of Civil Procedures. The following are some of the amendments that came into effect on January 1, 2021:
- Hearings, mediation and oral examinations for discovery may proceed by teleconference or video conference (the Courts have been using Zoom);
- Oral examination of a party or witness at trial may proceed via videoconference;
- Judicial officials and court registrars may use electronic signatures;
- Court documents may be issued electronically and this may be done by a registrar;
- Court staff may email court documents and communicate by email with parties and/or counsel;
- Lawyers and self-represented persons must provide an email address to the court, if they have one;
- Lawyers and self-represented persons are no longer required to provide their fax number to the court;
- Documents for hearings, pre-trial conferences and case conferences may be filed via CaseLines and the court can establish document requirements and deadlines for the submission of documents through CaseLines (note that CaseLines is not yet available in Ottawa, but is expected to be available in the spring of 2021);
- Authorize email service without consent or a court order for documents that are not required to be served personally or by an alternative to personal service;
- The option for service by fax is removed;
- An order removing a lawyer of record must include the client’s email address;
- The court can establish and authorize an electronic process for certification of court documents;
- The affidavit requirements are amended to align with the amendments in O. Reg. 431/20: Administering Oath or Declaration Remotely;
- Electronic transcripts are required for Ontario Superior Court of Justice and Divisional Court proceedings where the Rules require deliver, service, filing or provision of a transcript;
- Endorsements may be made electronically;
- Orders may be issued and entered electronically and may be served via email.
These amendments will further serve to reduce costs to clients by cutting out the charges for photocopying and printing, and will hopefully lead to more efficient and faster processing of documents.
If you have a civil litigation file and require assistance, please contact one of our civil litigators at Richardson Hall LLP.