Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General is seeking public input on settling traffic ticket disputes online instead of in court. It’s a reform worth trying.
Consider it a computer game with very real stakes. As an alternative to court, Ontario is working on a system that would allow people challenging a traffic ticket to present their case online to an unbiased arbiter.
If a web-based mechanism can be made to work — still a rather big “if” — this could carry substantial benefit. For a start, it would provide faster and more convenient service, saving would-be litigants the bother of appearing in court, a process that takes months to arrange and often involves taking time off from work.
The proposed online system would be far more efficient, too, sparing the province from having to provide a judge or justice of the peace, a prosecutor, and court space, plus the presence of the officer who laid the charge.
That’s why Queen’s Park is smart to explore what it calls “an online administrative monetary penalty system.” Public consultation is now underway, with the Ministry of the Attorney General seeking public input.
The online process would apply only to infractions involving provincial statutes and municipal bylaws. Criminal matters would still be tried in conventional court. More than 1.6 million charges were laid last year under these lesser statutes — mostly to do with traffic offences — and that doesn’t include parking tickets. Dealing with such picayune cases occupied 17 per cent of court time at the Ontario Court of Justice last year; time which could have been better spent weighing more serious matters.
There’s got to be a simpler, faster, less expensive way to challenge tickets and points. Here’s how it might work:
People accused of a minor violation could opt to pay the required fine online or dispute the matter. Those choosing to fight would be given access to basic instruction and “law-related resources” helping them navigate the legal system.
Armed with that information, they could enter particulars supporting their case online, with the matter ultimately decided by an independent hearing officer rather than a judge.
Administrative penalty systems of this sort represent “an effective, quick, clear and tangible way for regulators to respond to infractions of the law,” according to an analysis by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Ontario isn’t alone in considering this approach. British Columbia and Alberta are doing the same. But questions linger.
For example, should the online mechanism be the final word, akin to binding arbitration, or should people dissatisfied with a hearing officer’s ruling have the right to go to court after all? Should the process include the option of turning to an online mediation service, before people pitch their case before a hearing officer? And how, exactly, would technical material, such as law-related resources, be presented to the public?
There’s much to consider, but the potential rewards are such that a vigorous exploration of this approach is (cue the bang of a gavel) fully in order.
Source: The Toronto Star