B.C. Attorney General looking to use digital technology to improve access to justice

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B.C. attorney general looks to improve access to justice in digital age
WATCH: Navigating B.C.'s courts can be frustrating and even the province's top lawyer admits courtrooms haven't changed much in the last century. But as Kristen Robinson reports, there's a plan to embrace digital technology and make access to justice easier – Jun 2, 2019

B.C.’s top lawyer is looking to utilize technology to bring the province’s court system into the digital age — and make access to justice easier for the public.

According to a notice on BC Bid released May 14, the Court Services Branch and the Ministry of the Attorney General are inviting vendors to give their input and ideas on a new initiative called the Court Digital Transformation Strategy (CDTS).

The CDTS aims to better serve the needs of court users by harnessing the power of technology.

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“British Columbians expect the highest standards of service delivery, customer experience, simplicity, flexibility and ease of use,” the notice reads. “The CDTS aims at leveraging technology to meet the standards expected by the public.”

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Attorney General David Eby acknowledges progress has been made in the last five years, but admits the B.C. court system hasn’t kept up with technological advancements.

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“There’s sort of a widespread understanding that if you had a lawyer from 100 years ago show up in a courtroom in British Columbia today, it would all seem very familiar,” he said.

Digitizing court records to reduce the amount of paperwork the courts must store and manage, recording digital evidence, and having people appear by video from remote locations are all being considered in an effort to deliver swifter and more cost-effective justice.

Video conferencing technology is already in place at B.C. courthouses allowing some accused persons to appear via video from jail, and to allow out-of-town witnesses to testify for the prosecution at trial.

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Criminal lawyer Kyla Lee believes the technology should be available to everybody in the justice system.

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“Routine appearances and appearances on minor charges being done by video conference or by telephone is absolutely overdue,” she said.

Appearing by video would have saved Calgary’s Karl Lusawovana Nunu from driving nearly 1,000 kilometres to B.C. to fight a transit ticket last month. The father of four drove 10 hours each way, costing him two days of work.

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“It would be nice for people not to have to travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometres to make an appearance,” Eby said Sunday.

Lee says one of her biggest frustrations with the current B.C. justice system is the amount of time she and her colleagues spend in court for simple appearances she believes would be better resolved through a quick email or phone call.

Ninety per cent of court appearances are to request short adjournments, which she says should not require someone to appear in person.

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“It ends up costing our clients a lot of money,” Lee said. “It also slows down the justice system. The more that lawyers are tied up sitting in court, the less time they’re spending dealing with clients.”

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Lee says allowing digital technology to speed up the court system would also translate into quicker trial dates.

Eby told Global News his ministry is currently working with the judiciary to develop the CDTS and an associated road map over the next few months.

“The hope is that there are some tools that come forward that could be implemented very quickly,” he said.

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