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Traffic Court - Appear by Phone

Did you know that counsel can appear for disputants by telephone to defend their ticket?  Section 15.2 of the Offence Act has long had a specific section allowing Judicial Justices to adopt procedures that are "conducive to justly and expeditiously determining the matter".  This original section arguably gave Judicial Justices the right to approve phone appearances by defendants for some time.  However, in addition, the legislature recent years ago further passed a new piece of legislation (section 15.2(3) OA), allowing a defendant to defend themselves by telephone.  And, via section 57(2) counsel may appear for the driver.   This section, in our opinion is permissive to the disputant ("may appear...). It gives a (presumptive) right to the defendant to appear by phone.  This makes sense in a mobile world, and in a world where the legislature and the courts have an obligation to facilitate reasonable access to the justice system.  As a result it is our opinion all but the most complex matters should be permitted to appear by phone, (or where a phone appearance is simply not possible). 

As a result, in all circumstances where counsel is appearing for the disputant, an initial phone appearance should be allowed.  This is because any defence (most tickets are resolved without hearing), would be by cross-examinations and submissions only (via counsel), relatively easily done by telephone.  In this case, there would be no defendant testimony, no exhibits to submit, no translation issues, from the defence side.    Accordingly a telephone appearance by counsel is viable, practical, meets the aims of the legislature set out in 15.2(1) and 15.2(3), and meets a fundamental purpose of the court: to provide access to justice. 

The pandemic transformed the way people think about accessing services, and the court system has transformed as a result, for the better in all levels allowing remote access.  This has given people a practical way to dispute their ticket and access justice.  I daresay, from the court's perspective, it should also be a preferable tool to avoid the dreaded wrongful conviction and/or the less palatable "default ex parte conviction" that results in traffic court where someone has disputed the ticket, but fails to show up (even if the crown is not present). 

In summary, yes phone appearances are available, and in my view should be approved generally for counsel particularly.  The Judicial Justices have some discretion to deny phone appearances, but in my opinion this should not be done lightly, and should be done only rarely.  I look forward to reviewing developments in the Supreme Court on this matter, which will assist the courts in refining how much discretion, or how discretion should be used in considering phone appearance applications.