Quebec streamlining court system by ditching paper records

Quebec is moving its courts into the 21st century with a $500-million project that aims to modernize the overburdened and antiquated legal system.

Court records will become uniform, accessible in real time

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée says the government's plan will eliminating some inefficiencies and relieve some of the pressure on the court system. (CBC)

Quebec is moving its courts into the 21st century with a $500-million project that aims to modernize the overburdened and antiquated legal system.

"Over the course of the next few years, the justice system in Quebec will undergo a transformation like we have rarely seen in an institution of this importance and it will finally enter the digital era," Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said at a news conference today at the Montreal courthouse.

The government's plan, outlined in last month's provincial budget, includes digitizing all court files and records so they can be easily compiled and transferred between police, prosecutors and defence lawyers.

Currently, court records can vary by court house and are not available in real time. Often information has to be manually transcribed from one system into another.

It also includes a legal resource kiosk that will assist citizens through their court process and the digitizing of provincial inmates correctional files.

Speeding up court process

Another part of the plan, the first phase of which is expected to be in place by 2020, is directly aimed at reducing the backlog in courtrooms.

That became critical after a 2016 Supreme Court decision, known as the Jordan ruling, which imposed strict deadlines on the justice system to avoid unreasonable trial delays.

Trials involving less serious offences must now be wrapped up within 18 months, and those involving more serious charges, including murder, face a 30-month deadline.

If they go beyond that, prosecutors risk having the charges stayed. As of November 2017, 218 penal and criminal cases in Quebec have had charges stayed due to a Jordan decision-based delay.

Quebec committed $175-million over four years to recruit new judges, prosecutors, legal aid lawyers and support staff and create new courtrooms to deal with the back log. The pace of successful Jordan applications has been significantly reduced in recent months.

The new measures also include an alternative measures program that allows adults who admit guilt to a summary offence to be redirected to community service as well fast-tracking some guilty pleas on minor offences to save court time and costs. 

The province also wants to beef up funding for the video conferencing system, to allow more inmates to make court appearances from jail to cut down on transportation.

The funding for the modernisation project will be handed out over five years.