A remote court appearance service has been approved for use on the Estates List. Under the Rules of Civil Procedure there has always been the ability to conduct certain court appearances via videoconference. However, court approval has always been required (and the consent of the parties, unless the videoconference was made on the court’s own motion). Recently, the process has been updated. A practice advisory dated March 8, 2017 holds that no prior court approval is required when a party or counsel wishes to use CourtCall to appear at a 9:30 scheduling appointment.
According to its website, CourtCall was established in 1995 and has facilitated millions of appearances across the United States and Canada. The service (including equipment) is free for the court, and CourtCall manages appearances on behalf of the court. However, there is a fee for lawyers who wish to use it. A telephone call is $49.00 per call, videoconferencing is an additional $10.00. While judges are provided with CourtCall laptops for videoconferencing, the service for lawyers is browser-based and requires a webcam.
Under the Practice Advisory, lawyers must book the appearance two business days before the hearing and advise the court that they will be using CourtCall (this can be done in the confirmation). A pre-hearing check-in is required 15 minutes before the scheduled hearing time.
The introduction of CourtCall is a step in the right direction towards modernizing our court system. However, on certain matters there may be a benefit to appearing in person. It is an opportunity for all counsel on a file to speak with each other in person and uninterrupted. Sometimes, issues that could not be settled via the exchange of terse emails will be resolved when counsel can meet and discuss matters face to face. This service will be very helpful for consent orders and for lawyers whose offices are far from the courthouse.