In Defence of Tradition: Modernizing The Ontario Legal System In The Face Of Covid-19

by Kris Bonn

COVID-19 has necessarily caused the Ontario court system to frantically scramble to modernize how matters are heard and resolved. The law is based on tradition. Sometimes the desire to preserve tradition causes those involved to fear change.

Before Covid-19, almost everyone involved in the civil justice system in Ontario recognized that the system was slow and antiquated but there was no real incentive to change. We lumbered along with cases moving at a snail’s pace. The cost to pursue a civil case was too expensive for most people to even consider. In my field of medical malpractice and personal injury, we don’t charge our clients for the ongoing litigation and are only paid if there is a successful outcome. This is the only way for those injured or who suffer loss at the hands of another person or corporation to obtain any access to the courtroom and seek justice.

However, with the courts essentially shut down and prohibitions on in-person meetings, the civil justice system has been forced to adapt.

Technology is playing an important role in the modernization of our legal system.

Kudos to our Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz who has championed needed changes to our civil system to increase the use of technology to allow some cases to proceed. These changes include:

- allowing electronic filing of court documents

- allowing counsel to serve documents on opposing parties via email

- virtual hearings

- encouraging video examinations for discoveries

 These are all welcome developments and will help reduce the costs of a civil lawsuit and the time to resolution.

Video conferencing and maintaining public access to hearings.

I have personally participated in two video discoveries in the last month and they went quite well. I have my first virtual video hearing with the court on Friday, May 8th. We will be seeking certification of the class action against the late Dr. Gary Solomon and approval of the proposed settlement. The hearing is happening over Zoom. I will be in my office, defence counsel will be his office in Toronto and the judge will be in a different location. The public is also invited to sign-in and watch the hearing virtually. If you are interested you can find details on our website at

Finding a balance between tradition and modernization in the law. 

So with all this positive change, you might be wondering why the title of this blawg is about defending tradition. While these changes are welcome and necessary, we cannot abandon our traditions. In Ontario, lawyers wear formal gowns when appearing in Superior Court. This should continue for in-person hearings. Gowns provide a sense of decorum and gravity to the proceedings. Furthermore, once we are safely permitted to do so, we should re-start in-person hearings where witnesses need to be questioned. I agree that uncontested matters and even contested motions before a judge where there are no witnesses can proceed by way of video. However, the cross-examination of a witness is still more effective in-person.  

How we practice law in Ontario is changing and that is good. But as we evolve, we cannot lose sight of our past and throw out all of the good that is currently part of our civil justice system. 

Kristian Bonn