Ontario Courts launch CaseLines E-Trial Platform

Ontario Courts will launch CaseLines, a cloud-based document-management system, beginning August 10, 2020.

A two-week pilot will be for select civil motions and pre-trial conferences and will run in Toronto at the 330 University Avenue courthouse. The pilot will expand to all Toronto civil, Divisional Court, Commercial and Estate List, and bankruptcy matters on August 24, 2020. After the pilot, the system will be incrementally introduced within the Ontario Superior Court of Justice across the province.

An example of how application documents look, stored in CaseLines

Doug Downey, Attorney General of Ontario, tweeted that launching the online digital document sharing platform is “to support a more responsive and resilient justice system”.

Ontario’s Chief Justice, Geoffrey B. Morawetz described the project in a memorandum on July 29, 2020 to the Bar and Legal Associations, and explained that CaseLines will only be used to house documents reviewed by the judiciary – court filing processes will remain the same.

Justice Morawetz listed some of the key benefits of the E-Trial Platform:

  • user-friendly interface
  • materials of any size and file format can be uploaded
  • users can make private notes and highlights on documents
  • terms can be searched in all uploaded documents
  • parties can navigate documents and redirect opposing counsel and the court to view specific sections, and
  • users can view uploaded materials anytime, with or without VPN access.

CaseLines has been running in courts in the UK and Wales for the last 5 years. In British Columbia, CaseLines was used in Hutchison v. Moore (a case now set to go before the B.C. Court of Appeal this fall using both CaseLines and Zoom). CaseLines is also being used in The Nuchatlaht v. BC before Justice Myers of the B.C. Supreme Court.

Why this matters: This is a sea-change in legal procedure in Canada. When Ontario Courts launch CaseLines province-wide, it is hard to imagine it not affecting how others in Canada’s justice systems will consider digital procedures.

This is a good thing. COVID-19 has sped up an inevitable shift towards using more technology in court proceedings. But while a plethora of “best practises” documents for virtual hearings have appeared, the nitty-gritty of how to support those virtual hearings with an accessible and consistent evidentiary record is under-thought. An online digital document sharing platform, available to all users, can help with this.

Some people will say that there are lots of different ways to conduct virtual hearings and there is no need for courts to impose one document management program, such as CaseLines. In a post on SLAW, Bill MacLeod (counsel on the Hutchison v. Moore E-Trial) and I described why CaseLines was worth a try.

This move by the Ontario justice system is a welcome innovation. It will give us all some evidence on how this kind of technology might affect, and improve, access to justice for all.