Is the legal system backsliding on the lessons learned during the Covid-19 Pandemic?

While loathsome in most ways, the Covid-19 pandemic taught legal professionals many lessons on access to justice. Particularly, we learned that it is not always necessary to meet with clients or colleagues in person when a phone call or Zoom meeting would suffice. Many interim court hearings during the pandemic were conducted by teleconference or in some cases, by video conference. The legal profession as a whole became more flexible on rules regarding filing of documents, attendance at hearings, etc. Courts allowed the filing of many documents electronically, saving legal staff time and client’s money.

However, since the brunt of the pandemic has subsided, the justice system seems to have returned to many of the same practices as before the pandemic. In an interview published in the Canadian Bar Association National magazine on February 16, 2023, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Richard Wagner, discussed issues of access to justice. A link to this article is available here. In one notable exchange, the Chief Justice stated that he has heard that some courts are returning to the old way of doing things. Chief Justice Wager continues that a lack of resources has likely contributed to courts not implementing technologies that would modernize the justice system. This exchange is quoted in its entirety as follows:

N: You co-chaired the Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19, which acknowledged the many advantages of virtual hearings and easing of procedures. We’re now hearing about courts backsliding into old habits, especially in family law matters. Are you worried that we’re taking a step back? 

RW: I’ve heard the same thing, that some courts are going back to their old ways of doing things. I think it’s a mistake. I’ve said that COVID-19 was the crisis we needed to realize just how much our system had to be modernized. It would be unfortunate if we went backwards because people claim it’s easier or because they prefer it. We need to build on new technologies. For example, our new Supreme Court portal launched on January 30, which makes it easier for lawyers and people who are self-representing to file documents securely. That’s access to justice.

N: But that’s a luxury for the Supreme Court. Currently, in many jurisdictions, there is a very real lack of resources.

RW: I’ll point to statements by Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Quebec, Marie‑Anne Paquette, who said that the judicial system is held together with “duct tape.” That says it all. And she’s right. The system lacks legal resources. Technology hasn’t advanced sufficiently yet. Employees quit because they aren’t paid enough. For many years now, justice systems in democratic societies have been underfunded—not only in Quebec, not only in Canada, but all over the world. Governments have primarily invested in health and education, and that’s essential, but the justice system has always come second, as if we could just figure it out for ourselves. Judges do indeed figure it out, they are creative people, but they don’t have sufficient resources. There was the COVID pandemic, and there was the 2016 Jordan ruling that came as a warning that we need to invest in the justice system. It needs to be said that provincial governments have made investments, as has the federal government, but it hasn’t been enough. We have a long way to go. 

In this author’s opinion, a lack of resources is not a sufficient explanation for why courts have not modernized their systems to strengthen access to justice. While change is always difficult initially, the long-term benefits of e-filing systems, for example, far outweigh the short-term  difficulties of implementing these systems. Access to justice must be top of mind when drafting procedural rules for court filings.  In one interesting article entitled Electronic Legal Proceedings in Canada, the authors note that many jurisdictions have introduced some form of electronic filing system. Pearce and Younggren reference in this paper that in 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Canada completed a study on electronic filing and 73% of the respondents surveyed stated there would be “significant benefits to the ability to initial court proceedings and file documents electronically.” A link to this paper is available here.

In my opinion, all provinces in Canada (particularly New Brunswick) should conduct a similar study and look at several actions that would increase access to justice, such as: a. electronic filing systems; b. technology allowing counsel and parties to appear by teleconference (and video conference) for certain (non-consequential hearings).

7 Reasons You Should Make a Will (no matter how old you are)

Sometimes the universe presents me with topics to write on. This was one of those weeks. Over the past week, I have spoken to 3 or 4 different people separately about the importance of doing a Last Will and Testament. During one conversation, a colleague and I pondered the reasons why so many people avoid doing their wills. My theory is people simply do not want to think about death and thinking about a will means they must think about death. It’s not a pleasant topic, I admit. But the fact of the matter is that we are all going to die! Yes, that is a little dramatic, but it is true. The old adage is that the only things that are certain in this life are: death and taxes. With that said, here are seven reasons why you should think about doing a will, no matter what your age:

7. Peace of mind: If you do your will now, you will be providing yourself with peace of mind, just by knowing that you have something written down in case you pass away. There are few things more tragic than seeing close family members upset after the loss of a loved one. Add to that the stresses of trying to figure out what documents are needed, funeral arrangements, what to do with property, etc. Having a will does not solve all of these problems, but it is the foundation for your total estate planning package and will alleviate some unnecessary stresses on your family.

6. Costs:  Similar to my comments in a previous article about why a Power of Attorney is important, doing a will now can save costs to you and your estate. If you pass away without a will, you are what’s called “intestate” and a statute called the Devolution of Estates Act (in New Brunswick) kicks in to guide the process your family must go through to have someone appointed to represent your estate (pay your bills, sell your property, gift certain properties to others). This process can be more costly in the long run than probating (proving) a will.

5. Guardianship for you children:  You could include a provision in your will to appoint a guardian or guardians for your children should something happen to you. Only you know your children and who you trust to watch over them the most. A will is an effective way of expressing your wishes for your children as well.

4. Protecting your business: Through the process of drafting a will, people often begin thinking about a succession planning for their business. This might include transitioning your business to a family member. Also, your lawyer and accountant can assist you in thinking about estate freezes and/or family trusts, which can maximize the tax potential of your transition.

3. Complexity:   People seem to build up the process of making a will in their minds into something greater than it really is. In most cases, making a will is not a complex process. You will have to attend your lawyer’s office one or two times (maybe more depending on complexity) and discuss your property, your family and your wishes. Then you will attend your lawyer’s office to sign your will. It is not that difficult, but I recently heard someone say that when she told her workmates that she was going to a lawyer’s office to make a will, one workmate asked: “oh, why, what is wrong with you?”

2. Family Fighting : We have all heard or experienced horror story scenarios with family members fighting over their parent’s properties. While a will cannot guarantee that your family will not be fighting over your property or money, it will certainly reduce the possibility of disagreements. It is more difficult for family members to contest your intentions when they are written clearly in “black and white” in your will.

1. Control: If you are like me, there are likely very few items that are important enough that they should be passed on to specific people. However, if something ever happens to me, I have some sentimental items that I would like certain people to have. It is difficult to ensure that your few important items are distributed as you wish without a will. A will is the best way to ensure that you maintain control over what little you have on this earth.

Do you know about the Family Law NB website?

1. Access to Justice in Canada

Access to justice is a serious problem in Canada for several reasons:

1. many people cannot afford legal services;

2. not enough judges;

3. not enough courthouses;

4. need for streamlining of many legal processes.

See for example, Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, “Access to Civil and Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change”, online: (October 2013) Canadian Forum on Civil Justice <>

2. PLEIS Family Law NB Website 

One way of increasing access to justice is the use of “self-help” resources and websites, which provide information and step-by-step guides on completing court forms and how to navigate the judicial system. One of my favorite such websites is the Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick (PLEIS) Website, which houses a plethora of useful information on various areas of the law. Here is a link to PLEIS’ main page. In addition to the links on the main page, PLEIS has a website dedicated to family law information. Here  is a link to the PLEIS family law page. This website has “how-to” guides on filling out Court forms, videos from experienced family law practitioners and information about training sessions and courses available in your area. I have presented at a few of these sessions and bumped into course attendees years later, who mentioned how helpful they found the information.

While websites like the PLEIS website and the Family Law NB website should not be a complete substitute for competent legal advice, they may help you to gather information and narrow down issues before speaking to a lawyer. Also, I have had people attend my office with some of their divorce forms already filled out. This saves them time and money because our office staff can review these documents and make suggestions for revisions without having to start from scratch.

PLEIS Family Law

3. Social Media Options

I am a big believer in social media. If used correctly, one can personalize the information taken in and keep up to date on current events. I would highly recommend anyone interested in learning about Family Law (or any other area for that matter) should follow PLEIS on Facebook and Twitter for courses in your area and general information. Also, take a look around their website, as it is truly a wealth of information to get you started!