by Jennifer Lynch
Electronic filing has come to the British Columbia Courts. The first electronically filed documents were received by the Kelowna court registry on October 18, 2005, marking the beginning of the electronic filing pilot project.
E-filing is the next phase in the development of Court Services Online (CSO), a project to modernize the British Columbia civil court system and improve access to court services. CSO was officially launched by the Ministry of Attorney General in February 2005, with the introduction of the electronic search service. CSO e-search currently provides access to court record information on Provincial Court Small Claims matters, most Supreme Court civil matters, and on appeals (civil and criminal) in the Court of Appeal for a fee of $6 per search. There is also an online option to order copies of court documents with delivery by fax or regular mail for a fee of $10 per document.
In July of 2005, Small Claims Rule 22, Supreme Court Rule 69, and Court of Appeal Rule 54.1 were introduced to enable the e-filing pilot project. In October 2005, the pilot project began with a limited set of participants in the Kelowna and Vernon registries. It will continue on a limited basis until the spring of 2006, after which e-filing is expected to be available on a province-wide basis.
CSO e-filing will allow registered users to electronically submit civil court documents for filing to any registry in the province, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Initially, e-filing will be limited to Provincial Court Small Claims matters and most Supreme Court civil matters, with Provincial Court family matters and Court of Appeal matters to be added later.
To submit a document for filing, a user logs on to the CSO website, enters certain identifying information about the document, and attaches an electronic version of the document in PDF format. The transaction fee for e-filing will be $7. For the $7 fee, a user may e-file any number of documents to one court file. The transaction fee and any applicable statutory filing fees will be payable by credit card.
E-filing users can check the status of their e-filed documents from the CSO website. The court registries will update the status as the documents are processed. When a document is accepted for filing, the registry will electronically “stamp” the document with an image similar to the rubber stamp used on paper documents. The e-filing user can then download a copy of the stamped document.
While e-filing users will have online access to their own e-filed court documents, electronic copies of e-filed documents will not be publicly available through CSO e-search until policy on access to electronic documents can be further developed. The judiciary is currently engaged in a consultation process to assist in the development of policy regarding what electronic court documents may be accessed through e-search. A consultation paper on this issue is available from the judiciary’s website at www.courts.gov.bc.ca.
More information about e-filing and e-search is available at the CSO website at https://eservice.ag.gov.bc.ca/cso/index.do, or by e-mailing the CSO Support Centre at AGCSO@Victoria1.gov.bc.ca.
Jennifer Lynch, Partner in the Litigation Group, Vancouver office, Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP. Member of CSO project’s Client Advisory Group.
This article was published in the December 2005 issue of BarTalk. © 2005 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.