Will Livestreaming from Divorce Court Be the Wave of the Future?
In the past few weeks, the Ontario courts have felt the the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, and have responded to the public health threat by closing their doors entirely. Other than for truly urgent matters, no court hearings are being held anywhere in the province, and there is no foreseeable end to the moratorium.
This unexpected development brings the shortcomings of our present justice system into sharp focus. As concerns the Ontario Family Court system in particular, we have recently proposed that the existing document-filing and document-service procedures are sorely out of date; in our four-part series on “paperless justice”, we advocate for greater use of electronic documents in Family Law matters, including an adjustment to the Family Law Rules to allow for e-service on parties and e-filing of materials with the court.
But recommendations like these are just the beginning of the courts’ necessary evolution. Even if they were implemented tomorrow, Canadian courts would still be far behind those in other jurisdictions.
For example in a news item reported by CNN the U.K. Court of Appeal has announced that it will begin livestreaming its Family Law hearings by the end of 2020, allowing them to be viewed online. The initiative follows a 2018 livestreaming pilot project that featured only civil cases.
With the expansion to the Family Law appeals realm, the livestreaming will now include certain divorce cases, as well as some child care proceedings. Cases that are subject to publication bans and restrictions on reporting will not be eligible to be aired, and there will also be a 90-second time-delay added to the broadcast to allow it to be halted on-the-spot by the judge or court clerk if needed. Court officials promise to remain sensitive to participants’ privacy, and can conduct hearings with added anonymity in appropriate cases.
The hearings will be broadcast not only on the Court’s own official website, but also on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
According to that country’s Ministry of Justice, the goal is to increase transparency and improve the public’s understanding of the justice system. As the Court explains in its statement on the livestreaming initiative:
“Being open about what happens in court is critical for public confidence and understanding of the work which the judiciary undertakes. For centuries our court rooms have been open to the public. Livestreaming brings the public gallery into the 21st century and we are delighted that we can make the difficult and important work of the Court of Appeal Civil Division open to the broadest possible audience.
Many of our most significant cases come from the family jurisdiction. It is only right that cases of such wide public importance are made open to the public. Recent examples of cases looking at issues such as Islamic faith marriage, access to fertility records, or transgender identity are of interest to the public and it is important for the public to see how the court approaches these issues.”
Perhaps it goes without saying that the increased use of technology, including televised court proceedings, is the wave of the future. Let’s hope that – due to COVID-19 or otherwise – the Ontario courts start to catch the wave.
For the Court’s official statement, see: