The Website of the Alberta Courts

By: Nigel Bankes, Jennifer Koshan, and Jonnette Watson Hamilton

PDF Version: The Website of the Alberta Courts

Matter Commented On: The Alberta Courts’ website

This post deals with Court websites. We are posting it now because all three Alberta Courts have just made a significant change in their practice. At the beginning of this week (January 5, 2015) they announced that they will no longer post judgments on their own website. Instead, users are referred to CanLII for copies of recent judgments. Here is the notice that you will find on the ABQB and ABPC websites:

A collection of the judgments of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta is available from CanLII. The official version of the reasons for judgment is the signed original or handwritten endorsement in the court file. If there is a question about the content of a judgment, the original court file takes precedence. Copies of the original judgment may be obtained on payment of the applicable fee, by contacting the relevant court location.

You are about to leave the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta website. The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta is not responsible for the content of any external website.

Queen’s Bench judgments on CanLII

The Court of Appeal has yet to implement this decision but anticipates doing so in the near future.

We are given to understand that, while this move has been made to conserve staff time and reduce technology costs the Courts will continue to update the judgment databases — but henceforward the databases will only be available to internal users on the Courts’ intranet. We also understand that the decisions of the Courts will be sent to Can LII on a daily basis, and that there should not be a significant time lag in accessing them on Can LII.

In making this move the Alberta Courts are following the practice of some other Canadian courts, including those in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador.

ABlawg is a strong supporter of Can LII, and was one of the first blogs to participate in Can LII Connects. However, we think that there is a case to be made for Courts maintaining their own publicly accessible judgment databases, as well as contributing to open source databases such as CanLII.

What is that case? We think that a website offers any entity, including the different branches of government, the opportunity to communicate to the public about who they are and what they do. The practice of rendering public judgment is a central part of what a court does and should be celebrated. Many courts do just that, both in Canada and internationally. For Canadian examples, see the websites of the Courts of British Columbia and Nova Scotia. The website of the former includes an easily accessible “Recently Released Judgments” for both superior courts that lists the courts’ most recent decisions and a one sentence summary of the issue(s) dealt with by the court. The website of the latter includes, on their Court Decisions page, a list of “Today’s Releases” by five different levels of court. The Courts of Nova Scotia website also includes webcasts of court proceedings, among numerous other features.

Some courts even go beyond this content and use their websites to make additional materials available to the public, including appellate factums, transcripts, podcasts and in some specialized cases the pleadings. Examples here include the Supreme Court of Canada, the High Court of Australia, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (where it appears you can even rent the Court for special events; see “Venue Hire”!), and the International Court of Justice. In the case of the Australian and UK courts, these websites are additional to the open source databases AustLII and BAILII.

Of course these initiatives may not be appropriate to all levels of Court; we are not advocating any particular approach. But what we are saying is that a website is a crucial means of communication between the Courts and the public. A Court’s website conveys something about how accessible that Court is, or how accessible it wishes to be perceived to be. It says something about how central it sees the work of written decision-making and the dissemination of that work.

The message that the Alberta Courts send with the notice quoted above is that, while judgments may be central to who they are and what they do, they will leave it to others to publish those decisions and to be responsible for them. We think that that’s a shame. It’s even more of a shame if the Courts continue to maintain and update the database for their own use, since that suggests that any cost savings will be marginal at best.

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About Nigel Bankes

B.A., M.A. (Cantab.), LL.M. (UBC). Professor. Chair of Natural Resources Law. Member of the Alberta Bar. Please click here for more information.
This entry was posted in Access to Justice, Blogs and Websites. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Website of the Alberta Courts

  1. Mr. Terry Paden says:

    Thank you for this notification. I am a strong supporter of ABlawg and I agree with this post. I do not understand why this should happen in Alberta when Jim Prentice, Premier, is a lawyer. I realize low oil prices may dictate cost cutting but in a time when our due process and rule of law traditions seem to be slipping away one would hope Mr. Prentice would lead the way in “seeing that justice is done and SEEN to be done”. The two shames in the last paragraph above should definitely be noted by our lawyer Premier. I personally believe he has the legal education and practice background to recognize the validity of these two shames. If made aware of these perhaps he will provide some guidance.

  2. A. McVea says:

    This may not be completely on point with your interesting post but, as a side issue, how does it happen that a Romanian website can scrape databases and come up with more information regarding full names of litigants than CanLII published? You can see in the article cited below that the courts supplying decisions to CanLII appear to believe that the decisions are not searchable on Google but CanLII doesn’t appear to be in control of this.

    On what basis are initials used instead of the full names of parties? I know that decisions involving children involved in the child welfare system get this treatment.

    The link to the article is below.

    http://business.financialpost.com/2014/03/29/how-cyber-shame-scams-are-playing-on-our-privacy-fears-and-scaling-up/?__lsa=712f-803b#__federated=1

  3. Jennifer Koshan says:

    For a couple of recent posts following up on this issue, see http://www.slaw.ca/2015/01/20/trusting-the-system/ and http://www.cameronhuff.com/blog/canlii-licensing-terms/index.html. The posts raise some interesting issues concerning restrictions on licensing that affect Can LII’s ability to post judicial decisions.

  4. Nigel Bankes says:

    The Law Society of Alberta’s Newsletter of February 5, 2015 offers the following arguments in support of eliminating the publication of judgements on the Courts’ websites under the heading: “Judgment Publication – The Facts by CanLII”.

    “In January 2015, the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court stopped publishing Reasons for Judgments on the Courts’ external website, with the Court of Appeal soon to follow suit. The decision to move the publication of judgments to CanLII was prompted by the assurance of earlier and easier access to Court judgments, and the need to realize labour cost savings.

    In making this decision, the Courts also considered the fact that other jurisdictions have adopted a non-direct approach to judgment publication. They are Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut.

    Unlike the Courts, CanLII is usually able to publish judgments within two hours of receipt, unless screening discloses a need for redaction for privacy concerns. This compares very favourably with the Courts’ average publication timelines, from the assignment of a neutral citation to posting on the Court website, of one to two days.

    CanLII also offers a much stronger search interface, and in time will offer greater historical depth than is possible by the Courts and their resources.

    Although the technology costs between self-publication and outsourced publication are virtually identical, the effective use of Court staff was another matter. The ability to marshal a scarce resource in more valuable ways was a major deciding factor. The Courts’ judgments are still drafted with adherence to its privacy protocols, but final reviews are the responsibility of the publisher.

    Prior to outsourcing, the Courts’ process for review per judgment required staff time ranging from one to four hours, depending on the complexity of the judgment’s privacy considerations. Judgments now need only be filed and their links moved in a batch at the end of each day to CanLII. The decision to outsource publication has reduced the need for staff time to about 30 minutes per judgment.

    The Courts are confident that the move away from self-publishing will result in improved access time and better search results.”

  5. David Laidlaw says:

    It looks like the Court of Appeal has gone with CANLII as well as of February 5, 2015.

  6. Marnie Tunay says:

    Makes sense to me. Why duplicate an expensive service? And canlii was doing a far better job of it anyway.

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