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Ontario courts in need of tech updates: Forstner

It is an unfortunate reality that the technology available to most people in the developed world is still not present in Ontario’s court system, says Oshawa criminal lawyer Lawrence Forstner.

“For instance, if I am on a trip to Calgary, I can Skype with my family, but if I am in my home office and I have two court appearances in different regions of the Greater Toronto Area, each only consisting of five-minute appearances, I cannot use that simple technology to appear via video in court,” he tells

Forstner, principal of Forstner Law, notes that most courts in the province allow prisoners to appear by video from jail because the government recognized that taxpayer money can be saved by decreasing the number of times a prisoner is transported to attend court for a five-minute appearance.

“Now, the government doesn’t have to pay for defence lawyers to travel to court, but the fact is that if I were allowed to use the technology that is already sitting on my desk, I could make perfunctory appearances in any number of courts in a given day,” he says.

“The expense would be drastically reduced, I could serve more clients, and ultimately reduce the rates I charge them because of my decreased costs.”

It amounts to an access to justice issue because it would make it easier for counsel to represent their clients by cutting out the time and expense of unnecessary travel, Forstner says. 

“Lawyers could make more appearances, serve more clients, and do so in a much more cost-effective manner,” he says.

“Ultimately, this type of efficiency could also reduce the cost to Legal Aid Ontario, because although they set their own rates, the inefficiencies in the system dictate what lawyers are willing to take on in regards to clients. Making the system more efficient would result in more lawyers agreeing to represent legal aid clients.”

Forstner also points to an outdated platform on which most of the court-management system sits to record charges, dates, dispositions, the highway traffic ticket system and other information"

“Why can’t we have a modern data-management system like many other public entities or private corporations in Canada?"

Forstner says the failings of such an antiquated system was recently highlighted for him when he rushed to make a 2 p.m. court appearance in Scarborough, after having run late from a previous appearance that morning in Oshawa, only to find a sign on the courtroom door that it was adjourned until 2:45 p.m.

The unexpected delay caused him to reschedule a phone pretrial at 3 p.m. with the Oshawa Crown’s office, Forstner recalls.

“That meant that when I did get to do my pretrial, it was with a Crown that didn't have the opportunity to review the file in advance, so not much was accomplished and we sort of punted the ball down the field and agreed that the matter would be put over for another month,” he says.  

This delay also pushed back other matters for his clients, Forstner adds. 

“I don’t blame the Crowns; everyone in the system is overtaxed,” he says. 

But such inefficiencies could be avoided with improved technology, Forstner says.

“These delays create a kind of malaise that just sits in the air with everyone thinking to themselves ‘this shouldn’t be so difficult’ and ‘it really could be done more easily’ if the system recognized the technology that most of us have sitting in our pockets on our smartphones,” he says. 

Many courthouses don’t even have WI-FI available for defence counsel, Forstner says.

“It is ubiquitous in our world today, but not in the court system,” he says. 

“Crowns have Ethernet connections in each courtroom but defence lawyers are left to take notes and keep track of things later when they get back to their offices. Let’s level the playing field a little so that we have equal access to technology which would help create equal access to justice.”

Forstner says the construction of the new Toronto courthouse presents a timely opportunity for the justice system to implement new technology.

“This new building should be state of the art: WI-FI for all system participants; the ability to connect to courts and lawyers in different parts of the province; workspace for defence lawyers, not just Crowns,” he says.

“My hope is there will be courtrooms that are designed so that every participant for minor matters can appear virtually: this would mean I could sit at my desk in my office, the Crown at his/ hers, and witnesses elsewhere,” he says.

“I’m not suggesting that trials should become a virtual experience, but some matters could be dealt with through the advent of modern technology.”

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