After the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus swept around the world, there were a lot of public buildings that shuttered their doors. That includes here in Edmonton, where many of the public buildings were closed temporarily such as courtrooms. This resulted in a massive delay for cases that were awaiting hearings. The courtrooms knew that they needed to open as soon as possible, but that there had to be some safety precautions put into place.
Going into a courtroom now, you might notice that there are a lot of plexiglass shields there that weren’t there before. This is for those cases that need people to be there physically, many of which are criminal cases. Then, there are some of those very minor cases, and courtrooms are now handling those with the advancements in technology. These minor cases are being held via video conferencing, which has expedited some of the process to help erase the long list of cases that were being pushed back.
Judges have been receiving scanned copies of documents for civil cases so that they can review them in their own homes, and then conferencing with both parties to determine the result. This has resulted in lower wait times for cases like divorce, which have seen these timelines cut in half. This could mean that divorce cases might be handled this way for the future, as the numbers are encouraging for busy courtrooms to handle more essential cases.
Chief Justice Mary Moreau said that the experience in the technology changes has “been a bit of a roller coaster ride,” adding that “There have been some unusual situations in the past but none like this that affects an entire court system…We have some challenges as a court of record. Many of these processes have to be recorded and that’s why we do need our courtrooms. We need the computer recording machine and we need a clerk. Those are challenges that have slowed us down.” With further changes to the system and technological advances, though, we might see courtrooms continue to go more digital.