E-search service coming September, 2004 ? E-filing slated for March, 2006

Court Services Online: electronic search and filing of civil court records

Beginning this Fall, BC lawyers will be able to gain online access to information from the Court Services Branch on civil court proceedings filed in any registry of the BC Court of Appeal, BC Supreme Court and BC Provincial Court.

Court Services Online - an initiative of the Court Services Branch of the Ministry of Attorney General and the judiciary - was introduced and demonstrated for the Benchers in February by project liaison Thomas Broeren and project analyst Janice Vurdela.

The core services provided through Court Services Online will be electronic search and access to civil court file information (e-search), and the electronic filing of civil court documents (e-filing). Current project plans call for implementation of e-search in the Fall of 2004 and e-filing in the Spring of 2006.

What court registry information will be searchable online?

E-search is the electronic search and access module of Court Services Online. E-Search will allow users to search for information on civil court files in the Provincial and Supreme Court and on civil and criminal appeal files in the Court of Appeal. Information from every court registry in the province will be accessible, allowing users to conduct province-wide searches at any time.

Files will be searchable by party name or file number. Some restrictions on access will apply, particularly to information on family matters. Subject to these restrictions, the following court registry information will be accessible:

  • File number
  • Type of file
  • Date opened
  • Registry location
  • Party names/style of cause
  • Counsel names
  • Claim amount
  • List of filed documents
  • Appearance details
  • Clerk's notes
  • Caveat details

A transaction charge of $6.00 per search will apply.

The e-search service heads into the pilot phase this April, with 55 participants drawn from law firms, registry agent companies and the media.

How will law firms access the e-search service?

Once e-search services are launched this Fall, lawyers, their staff and any other person will be able to gain access directly via the Internet and pay for searches by credit card. Firms will also have the option of setting up an e-search account through registration with Court Services Online.

By opting for an account, a firm need not provide a credit card number each time it conducts searches. In managing the account, a firm can specify which people within the firm are permitted to conduct searches. The firm can also assign file numbers to searches and, for an additional fee, order monthly statements showing all e-search activity.

What is ahead for e-filing?

The current plan is to allow for the electronic submission of civil court documents at any court registry in the province by 2006. E-filing will be available in the Provincial Court, Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.

While the scope of e-filing has yet to be determined, Court Services Online expects to accommodate the e-filing of originating documents in all levels of court, a majority of documents in Provincial Court family and small claims matters and a majority of documents in BC Supreme Court civil matters. In general, to e-file a document in a court registry, a law firm will be expected to convert the document to portable document format (PDF) using Adobe Acrobat and to file via the Court Services Online site. Registration will be required for these filings and will allow law firms to check the status of their filings.

It remains to be seen how the online service would accommodate documents that require original signatures, such as affidavits, exhibits and consent orders, and with large filings, such as appeal books and factums in the BC Court of Appeal.

Users will have online access to the electronic documents they file, for on-screen viewing, downloading or printout. Whether the profession and the public will have general access to documents filed by others in the registry, however, is a policy decision to be considered by the judiciary.

Questions or comments?

For more information, contact Project Liaison Thomas W. Broeren of Gordium Associates (Canada) Inc. at tel: 250 472-8949, fax: 250 472-8171 or email: Thomas.Broeren@gordium.ca.