For the London Free Press – July 21, 2008
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The image of lawyers going to court carrying boxes of paper is slowly becoming obsolete. That paper is being replaced by electronic files.
To encourage the use of electronic documents in court, the Canadian Judicial Council recently published a document drafted by the judges technology advisory committee entitled National Model Practice Direction for the Use of Technology in Civil Litigation. It’s available online at www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca.
The document encourages the use of electronic evidence and provides direction for compatible technologies and consistent use to give all parties to litigation, including the judge, more efficient access to evidence and documents.
It also may push along those lawyers who have not yet embraced electronic documents.
The council and committee are made up of of trial and appellate court judges from across Canada. The committee’s mandate is to make recommendations about effective use of technology in the courts.
The Practice Direction document aims to encourage parties in a proceeding to “consider the ways in which the use of technology might lead to the more efficient conduct of the litigation.”
Though its guidelines aren’t mandatory, the committee encourages their adoption in proceedings:
- where much of the documents are in electronic format;
- where there are are more 1,000 documents or 3,000 pages involved;
- where there are more than three parties;
- and where the proceedings are multi-jurisdictional or cross-border.
The guidelines encourage electronic documents in courts and set out a framework to make the process work smoothly.
The committee encourages parties to start thinking about using Practice Direction guidelines from the earliest stages of proceedings.
For example, considering whether they hold any potentially discoverable electronic documents or whether there are any limits on discovery that may be agreed between the parties.
The time saved by using electronic documents can be significant. For example, being able to search large numbers of documents for content and keywords –just as one searches the Internet — can be a tremendous time-saver.
In addition to making the process more efficient and organized, the guidelines can cut costs.
In his 2007 Civil Justice Reform Project report — available at www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca — former Associate Chief Justice of Ontario Coulter Osborne outlines the monetary benefits of adopting technology in civil litigation.
“In a case involving 50,000 documents, the cost of producing five copies of each document at $0.25 per page is $62,500,” he says. “In contrast, scanning the documents by a company offering document and litigation management services may cost approximately $12,000.”
The advantages of electronic evidence are compelling, even in cases with relatively small amounts of documents. Perhaps the paperless courtroom will arrive before the paperless office.