March 29, 2021

The “Digital Transformation” at Tribunals Ontario: The Impact on Access to Justice


In the continuing 2020/21 public health crisis, it has become important for all jurisdictions to explore innovative ways to deliver justice, including administrative justice. More specifically, the expanded use of digital or electronic hearings has become essential, and increasingly, is accepted as an important option to maintain after the pandemic, where it can promote access to justice, including timeliness, without undermining a fair hearing process. At the same time, concern has arisen in many jurisdictions about the impact of digital justice on disadvantaged litigants, including persons with limited internet access or technological capacity.

In Ontario, at a mid-point in the pandemic, Tribunals Ontario, a group of fourteen tribunals, announced a “digital transformation”: electronic and written hearings would be the primary hearing format going forward on a permanent basis. This pivot away from in-person hearings raised concerns among poverty law advocates, including community legal clinics. Tribunals Ontario includes the adjudicative bodies hearing eviction applications, disability claims, discrimination claims, and child and family services disputes. Many litigants before these tribunals live in low-income households. This discussion paper was prepared for Tribunal Watch Ontario to explore the impact on access to justice where new limitations are placed on the right of disadvantaged litigants to participate in an in-person hearing.

Topics: Tribunals Ontario