KITCHENER -- Kitchener courts are starting a pilot project this week, using video conferencing for virtual criminal case management.

Starting Monday, counsel and those accused who aren't in custody can appear in Kitchener court through video or audio conference via Zoom. Courts in Ottawa are also piloting the virtual appearances.

Case management includes a first appearance or matters scheduled "to be spoken to" or to "set a date," according to the courts. Zoom won't be used for trials, preliminary hearings, guilty pleas or sentencing.

"The people in the justice system are working very hard for the accused who are out of custody to now get their cases going to avoid going into big and very crowded courthouses," said CTV News legal analyst Ari Goldkind. "It makes sense to me to try this in Kitchener or one of the very new houses in the province, and there aren't many, so it makes sense to try it here."

Media are not allowed to record Zoom court proceedings, just like in traditional Canadian courtroom settings.

In one of the calls, lawyers, members of the public, and the media each had one Zoom square in the meeting.

The only person visible in the courtroom during the call wasthe judge, who was wearing robes and a clear plastic face shield.

Dr. Ann Cavoukian, a former information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, believes taking the justice system online was inevitable.

"This is our new reality," she said. "We don't have a physical presence anymore in a number of areas, including courts of justice.

"Zoom has strengthened their security measures dramatically, I mean tenfold."

Goldkind says that, if the pandemic continues, there may be the possibility of judge-alone Zoom trials for the more serious cases, but that's only if the prosecution agrees.

Here's when the videoconferencing cases can be scheduled in Kitchener:

  • Adult criminal case management court (Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m., Courtroom 106)
  • Youth court (Friday, 9 a.m., Courtroom 106)
  • Intimate partner violence offences case management court (Thursday, 9 a.m., Courtroom 101)
  • Federal matters and impaired driving offences case management court (Friday, 9 a.m., Courtroom 101)

The courts said counsel and accused persons are encouraged to attend the virtual appearances by video. However, if video isn't an option, they can also attend through audioconference.

Information on links, numbers and passcodes for Kitchener virtual case management court can be found here.

With reporting from Nicole Lampa