As of June 10, 2015, the Family Law Rules of Ontario have been amended to allow the service of documents by email, provided the parties consent to it. The new Rules also expand the ability of parties to serve documents using an electronic document exchange service. These services allow parties to upload documents which become viewable to the other party. The service will date and time stamp each document as it is uploaded and accessed by each party. This allows both sides quick and easy access to the same set of documents without requiring volumes of paper or electronic storage devices.
The amendments also provide clear guidelines as to when a document is considered served on the other party. For example, the new Subrule 6(10) states that where a document is uploaded to an electronic document exchange service, it is considered to have been served on that date, provided it was time stamped before 4:00pm. If after 4:00pm, service is considered effective on the following day. Clarity in this regard is helpful to lawyers, litigants and the courts, allowing parties to focus on substantive issues over procedural ones.
While these amendments may seem minor, they suggest that the courts in general- and the family courts in particular- are coming to accept the role technology can play in reducing the expense, time and stress involved in litigation. We have seen a number of developments recently which suggest that the legal system has begun to embrace new ways of doing things, including the ability to file certain Small Claims Court claims electronically and the Superior Court’s directive allowing lawyers and journalists to use electronic devices in the courtroom.
Last month’s amendments to the Family Law Rules are certainly a positive step towards exploring how technology can assist lawyers, litigants and court staff in finding quicker and often less expensive alternatives to the ways litigation has been conducted for decades. I anticipate that we can look forward to similar developments across the legal system in the near future.