Please enjoy this blog post from Gretel Best, Manager of eDiscovery & Litigation Support, Gowling WLG (Canada) LLP.
It has been well over a year since the start of the COVID19 pandemic and we are all keenly aware of the profound changes it has had on our personal and professional lives. Most of these changes have had many negative impacts, but the pandemic has also been a catalyst for positive change. One of the encouraging changes we have seen is the Ontario court’s transition to a virtual and paperless courtroom through the implementation of technology and Thomson Reuters’ CaseLines.
What Is It?
CaseLines is a cloud-based document sharing, storage and electronic hearing platform that provides users with the ability to present documents to witnesses, judges and counsel virtually with a few clicks of a mouse. CaseLines is easy to use and, with a little training, can make even those who are not particularly tech savvy look like electronic hearing experts.
CaseLines is also an effective solution outside of the courtroom. It has been used successfully at arbitrations, mediations and tribunal hearings. We are also seeing interest of using CaseLines at discoveries as a means to share productions and present documents to witnesses.
The Pilot and Transition
If you are wondering how we finally got here, it all started back on August 10, 2020 when Chief Justice Morawetz announced that the Ministry of the Attorney General procured CaseLines for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Shortly after that announcement, MAG launched a two-week pilot of CaseLines in Toronto for select civil motions and pre-trial conferences. By September 2020, Toronto Civil and Divisional Court, family, and criminal matters implemented CaseLines with rollouts scheduled for the remaining provincial regions by the end of summer 2021.
In addition to the CaseLines pilot and rollout, the Civil Rules Committee took another important step towards a virtual and paperless courtroom. They made it a rule. On January 1, 2021, amendments were made to the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure prescribing the use of CaseLines in any hearing, pre-trial conference or case conference pursuant to Rule 4.05.3.
How Does It Work?
Many have asked how the CaseLines and virtual hearing process works in Ontario.
When your hearing is scheduled, the court will create a CaseLines database for your matter. The court will then send a registration link to all parties one to two weeks before your hearing date. You are required to register with CaseLines and create a user account in order to access your database. CaseLines databases for all Ontario matters are managed and administered by the court. Currently, there is no cost to use CaseLines.
You will also receive a Zoom video conference link from the court. You will use the Zoom video conference platform to attend the hearing virtually and the CaseLines platform to present your documents at the hearing.
We are currently using CaseLines for a lengthy and document intensive trial. The platform works very well and its use has resulted in time and cost efficiencies for all parties. All of the documents are stored in CaseLines’ secure database so only one set of electronic material is required as opposed to multiple copies of paper briefs for counsel, judge and witness. The cost savings in paper alone is substantial.
Counsel can quickly and easily “page direct” a judge and witness to specific documents eliminating the need to pull physical trial briefs, flip through multiple tabs and pages to find the correct document and then wait for everybody else to find the same document. Counsel and judges can also electronically search the content of documents within CaseLines, hyperlink and highlight documents and create private or public annotations.
From a litigation support perspective, uploading documents to CaseLines is simple and easy. The Ontario Rules require document uploads in PDF, Word or Excel format. However, you can also upload and playback audio and video files. There are different upload options available including bookmarked PDFs, zip files and load files.
During upload, documents are virus scanned, made fully searchable and paginated with CaseLines’ custom page numbering. It is important to note that if you are referencing page numbers within material not yet uploaded to CaseLines, you may need to update your page number references to match CaseLines’ custom pagination. You should also pay attention to the naming convention in the Superior Court’s Supplementary Notice to the Profession. Using the correct naming protocol will streamline your uploads and ensure that your documents are named and dated correctly after they are uploaded to CaseLines. With respect to timing, you must upload all documents at least 5 days before your hearing date.
How Do You Get Training?
If you have not had an opportunity to use CaseLines yet, the thought of using the new platform may be a bit daunting. If this is how you feel, rest assured that you are not alone. CaseLines is a new platform and we are all still learning how to use it.
If you would to learn more about CaseLines or get some training, the Ontario Bar Association is committed to supporting the profession during this transition and is offering live weekly CaseLines training sessions. The OBA also offers an on-demand video library and quick guides for important CaseLines activities, an on-demand mock trial video demonstrating the use of CaseLines in a hearing as well as emergency support line with CaseLines certified staff.
For more information about training, please visit the OBA website at: https://www.oba.org/Professional-Development-Resources/Caselines
As Justice Brown once said, “Lawyers and the courts must embrace technology to avoid becoming irrelevant museum pieces”. The court’s procurement of CaseLines and the amendment to the Ontario Rules requiring its use are long-awaited changes and important step first steps towards the modernization of our courts.