You’re Going to Court In Person?!! An update on courtroom technology from your Section Technology Liaisons

  • January 04, 2024
  • Krystyne Rusek and Mitchell Rattner, Section Technology Liaisons, with assistance from Matthew Bradley (Speigel Nichols Fox, LLP)

In-person hearings have not returned to all their pre-pandemic glory, but we have begun to see a gradual return to in-person and hybrid attendances for different types of hearings, conferences and judicial mediations.[1] For those who have an upcoming in-person or hybrid attendance, this article briefly outlines some of the courtroom technology available to make the most of these appearances and more importantly, avoid the ire of your presiding judge.

Ontario Court Wi-Fi – Getting Wired-In

Before attending court, counsel should apply for an Ontario Public Service Guest (“OPSGuest”) Wi-Fi Account. The OPSGuest wireless network is available to all parties to a matter (i.e. counsel and self-represented litigants) in all Ontario courthouses.  

A copy of the application form to be completed is available here and must be emailed to the Ministry of the Attorney General at wifi@ontario.ca. Once the application is processed, counsel will receive an email from the Ontario Court Wi-Fi team with a User ID and password.

Once at the court, access to the OPSGuest wireless network is secured by following these instructions. When connecting, the wireless signal labelled “OPSGuest” must be selected, not the wireless signals labelled “OPS” or “OG Public Wi-Fi”. Access to the network will be available for 6 months, after which a new application must be submitted.

Some lawyers have expressed difficulty in using the OPSGuest wireless network to run software (i.e. such as a virtual private network or VPN) that connects laptops to internal firm networks. It is important to check in advance of an attendance whether the network to be accessed has any firewall that would block a remote connection between the OPSGuest wireless network and the law firm’s network.

Courtroom Setup

Some but not all of Ontario’s courtrooms are permanently equipped with commercial grade audio and video technology through Ontario’s Justice Video Network (“JVN”). These courtrooms include cameras and microphones to capture each in-person participant: judge, registrar, court reporter, counsel, party, witness. Large monitors are provided to allow all attendees, whether in-person or remote, to see and hear each other. 

Where JVN has not been fully implemented (including in the Toronto Estates Court), temporary solutions have been put in place to accommodate remote and hybrid hearings. As most counsel know, remote attendances are now conducted via Zoom. For in-person hearings, there will still be a Zoom meeting set up, to allow remote participants to be shown on screen in the courtroom and to easily allow the court to record the attendance. Courtrooms 5-5 to 5-7 at 330 University Ave. include wall mounted cameras that can zoom in on a particular speaker, and that have professional grade audio microphones that integrate in-room and remote sound.  Sound can be controlled by court staff, and mute controls are provided at lectern and counsel table microphones.

What to bring and what to do

Courtroom laptops are available to the judge and the registrar, but counsel/parties are expected to bring their own laptops. Counsel tables are outfitted with a power supply and there are HDMI adaptors available through which counsel can connect their laptops to the court’s shared monitors. In courtrooms with large screens available for Zoom, counsel can use the share screen function in Zoom to project materials from CaseLines or from their hard drive/VPN onto the shared screen. In JVN courtrooms, counsel can share their screen using the HDMI connection at the counsel table.

If counsel are appearing in person, but wish to simultaneously connect to a hearing by Zoom to share materials, it is important to mute or disable audio/microphone on laptops to avoid audio feedback.

Unfortunately, as with all technology, problems do occur. Should there be a disruption with Wi-Fi, counsel may need to be prepared to proceed with materials downloaded to their laptops, with Ethernet access potentially available to access online materials. Where self-represented litigants are involved, it may also be prudent to have available hard copies of materials.

For most attendances, other than judicial mediations and some case conferences, counsel are still expected to stand up to make submissions. This means that counsel’s laptop and other materials will need to be brought up to the lectern. A request has been made by your Technology Liaisons for the court to consider replacing lecterns with standing desks, which are level and provide more space. 

If there is particular technological or health and safety accommodation required for a hearing, counsel may contact the accessibility coordinator at each courthouse.

We trust that this update addresses any concerns and anxiety our members may have about returning to in-person attendances and allows for a focus on success at the hearing. Questions can be directed to krystyne@ontlaw.com and m.rattner@estatelitigation.net. Good luck to all!

 

[1] In-person and hybrid hearings are generally scheduled in accordance with the Consolidated Provincial Practice Direction for Civil Proceedings (Part V: Guidelines to Determine Mode of Proceeding in Civil). The Toronto Estates List is not included under the Consolidated Provincial Practice Direction and has not yet published an updated Practice Direction, but the unofficial protocol seems to be that longer matters (full day, multiple days) will be in person, but subject to a judge’s direction based on the circumstances. 

Any article or other information or content expressed or made available in this Section is that of the respective author(s) and not of the OBA.