Cowichan Tribes E-Trial well underway in Victoria

Cowichan E-Trial in BC Supreme Court
Cowichan E-Trial in BC Supreme Court

The Cowichan Tribes E-Trial entered its fourth week of evidence this week. Justice Young has heard the Plaintiffs’ opening statement and testimony from the first three witnesses. The court is now hearing evidence from the Plaintiffs’ fourth witness. As of October 1, 2019 – Day 16 of Trial – 38 exhibits have been presented to and accepted by the court in the digital environment. A further 18 documents have been marked for identification the same way.

In Cowichan Tribes et al v. the Attorney General of Canada et al [VI 14-1027], the Cowichan Tribes et al. claim Aboriginal title to government-owned lands near the mouth of the Fraser River in British Columbia.

In the E-Trial, the parties are using a combination of the REDI platform to manage documents and to present and enter exhibits, PDF Expert to annotate exhibits and realtime reporting for daily transcripts. With this set up, it is possible to follow the day’s transcript as it unfolds (i.e., in real time) and to see documents being entered as exhibits on the E-Trial Platform  – all off-site (i.e., from an office desk, rather than in court).

Why this matters: If the parties had not planned this case as an E-Trial, the litigation would have involved over 10,000 binders of paper during trial. At one point, the parties had selected 13, 246 documents for a Common Book of Documents. Once copy of that common book would have covered over 215, 500 pieces of paper. Including tabs, this would have filled over 1078 3-inch binders. With seven parties in court, the trial would have required 10 copies of that common book, for a total of 10, 078 binders. But in the E-Trial environment, these binders are not needed.

There will very likely also be significant cost savings for all parties, and the court. During the first weeks of trial, many parties brought at least two counsel to court. At a rate of $300 per hour – and assuming a seven hour day, that would cost $2100 per party/day An E-Trial can reduce court days by between 25 – 30% (For example, in Southwind v. Canada, counsel estimated 100 trial days, but the E-Trial only used 72 days). The Cowichan Tribes action is set for 300 court days, which – based on the assumptions above – could cost a party $630,000. If the parties can speed the trial by even 20% because they are in the E-Trial environment, then that would save a party $126,000 in counsel fees. It would also free up approximately 75 court days in which the court might hear other disputes.