How this global pandemic has changed things for the better in our criminal justice system
The world is experiencing a pandemic that has been unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. While all of us have been affected individually, the criminal justice system has not been exempt from the effects of COVID-19. It too, serving as a primary and essential service in our country and in our provinces, has been forced to adapt to the rapid shift in limiting public gatherings and human interactions.
Like a busy market bazaar, on any given day pre-COVID-19, criminal courthouses were buzzing. A plethora of people would be running to and fro, emotions high, or waiting endlessly for a matter to commence. People were everywhere. Now, courthouses are closed to members of the public. While it was a confusing and abrupt change for all of its regular participants, our criminal courts have been forced to adapt to a sleeker and more efficient version of itself. Hearings and pre-trials are now done via telephone or video conference. Materials and motions are being filed with the court electronically.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to be more efficient in our approach, more flexible. We are no longer averse to keeping criminal matters moving through the system via telephone or other electronic mediums. We are no longer required to print hundreds of pages to serve materials on the court. Justice has been updated. But, it took the criminal justice system a terrifying global pandemic to become more streamlined and modern in its practice. As one of the most ancient processes in our civilization, it’s not hard to see why.
This newer and sleeker justice machine is of course categorized as a temporary response to the global pandemic. But whispers around tele-court hallways seem to suggest that there is a push coming from inside the belly of the beast to advocate for this streamlined and efficient new approach to criminal law to become permanent. There was once a time when a lawyer could only be in one place at one time. Now, we can call into multiple courthouses in one day bringing closure to many criminal matters at a much faster pace (while saving trees in the process).
Now, we can call into multiple courthouses in one day bringing closure to many criminal matters at a much faster pace (while saving trees in the process)..What we ultimately do lose though, is what we are all missing right now as a collective: that human-to-human interaction that cannot be replaced with even the best video conference applications. We cannot deny as a species that eye contact, body language and social cues speak volumes louder than even a great Zoom background selection.
One can only hope that at least some of the processes implemented will remain as shiny artifacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Combining these new practices with the invaluable showcase of intelligence, showmanship and candour that any given day in court can bring will surely be a magnificent and harmonious blend of our justice system’s greatest strengths pre and post pandemic.
And to think: a little bat somewhere in China is responsible for potentially changing the Canadian criminal justice system for the better.