The New Brunswick justice system could be in line for a digital upgrade that would allow people to file information to courts electronically and retrieve important information online.
Argyri Panezi and a team of researchers at the University of New Brunswick are developing a project that would apply changes to the Court of Appeal, the Court of Queen's Bench and the Provincial Court.
"We just need to make sure that this is done in a systematic, careful, way and really fits the needs of the communities that the courts are serving," said Panezi, who is the Canada Research Chair in Digital Information Law at UNB Law.
The project started at the beginning of 2023. There was a summit in August, where Panezi met with interested parties from the courts, law associations and legal aid institutions to discuss the changes.
There will be another summit in 2024.
"It's not a quick fix," she said. "It's not a quick process because we need to make sure that we implement changes and we propose and then implement changes at the right place.
"We don't just throw tech to problems. We need to rethink about the whole system when we're talking about modernization and especially digital transformation."
The province says it hasn't committed any funding to the project but it is working with the research team. (Shane Magee/CBC)
In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Public Safety said it has not committed any formal resources or funding to the initiative, but is supportive of any initiative that will improve access to justice for New Brunswickers.
The department said it will continue to work with the project team at its request.
Panezi said electronic filing would allow lawyers and people who are representing themselves to file directly with the courts online. They would no longer need to print out and submit a paper file.
It would also give judges access to files immediately. Panezi said it would also mean archived information would be more accessible, which could allow for information to be analyzed.
"We can engage with new technologies like machine learning and AI and actually make different inquiries about this content in the long term," she said.
Panezi and a team of students is also working with the courts' registrar to examine modernizing the website to make information easily available online.
She said it would make it so people could find information easily on the web and one mobile.
"Users expect in 2024 to find information about their courts and to communicate with the courts in ways that are up to date," she said.
Online portal required
Panezi said there is still legislation needed to make all this happen. It also requires building an online, safe portal that would be managed by the courts.
She said they've looked at both Nova Scotia and British Columbia, which have started similar initiatives. She said courts across Canada have been nervous to digitize on this level because of potential security risks to data and privacy.
"Safeguards need to be in place, and not everything should be available online," said Panezi.
"Just like in the physical world, there are rules and processes as to what will be public. We need to replicate that online."