Is online justice a practical reality?

Online small claim disputes could serve as a giant leap in efficiency for the judicial system, and I’m almost on board.

B.C.’s online Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) recently announced that as of June 1, it will be moving to an online system in order to resolve small claim disputes involving less than $5,000.

This will be the first of its kind, and will be under the watchful eye of many for effectiveness and efficiency.

Online court has been noted as the latest step in B.C.’s effort to increase efficiency of the justice system. Individuals will now work through a step-by-step online process to resolve disputes over debt, damage, recovery of personal property or specific performance of agreements, without appearing in a court room.

The online court process could take three stages to dispute, although most cases will be settled in the first stage, known as “guided pathway”, which evaluates and suggests ways to settle the dispute. If need be, some cases are carried down the line, where lawyers make a ruling with the same authority as a small claims court decision.

This change and advancement of the judicial system has been brought about by an apparent rise in crime, and complexity of cases. With an 18 month time limit for cases in provincial courts and a 30 month limit in B.C. Supreme Courts, a reform was called due to the number of cases dismissed over delays. An estimated 6,000 minor infractions and fines were removed, per year, from criminal courts.

In 2016, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an Ottawa public policy think-tank, released a “report card” assessing each province and territory’s criminal justice system based on five key measurements: public safety, support for victims, costs and resources, fairness and access to justice, and efficiency.

British Columbia received a failing grade for the average number of violent crimes police “solve” by way of charge — slightly more than half of all cases — from 2013 to 2015.

It concluded that the Canadian justice system is slow, inefficient and costly.

Online small claim disputes could serve as a giant leap in efficiency for the judicial system, and I’m almost on board. Small claims court can be quite the process, and the ability to settle a claim from the comfort of your kitchen table could be quite the luxury. As well, removing small claim disputes from the court systems could free up more time to deal with larger issues such as violent crimes or crimes against society/humanity.

However, if I am fighting for a sum of money owed to me, I’m spending time and resources, and therefore I want to sit face to face with a judge and watch them examine the facts. I’m not sure I like the idea of having my dispute fall through a set of algorithms, to be decided upon by an unknown person in a far away place. Not every case is the same. In addition, what could be down the line if we continue to follow this system? Will child custody cases be solved online as well?