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Courts prepare to upgrade ancient computer system

The Yukon's justice system is one step closer to upgrading its badly outdated information management system.

The Yukon’s justice system is one step closer to upgrading its badly outdated information management system.

After years of examining different options across the country, the Department of Justice has decided on a Nova Scotia system, with some Yukon-specific tweaks.

The new system, known as JEIN - the Justice Enterprise Information Network - will bring Yukon courts into this millennium.

It will replace the old Court Registry Information System, CRIS, which was built sometime in the ‘80s.

Sheri Blaker, director of court services, said JEIN will make courts more efficient.

It will allow the department to keep better track of statistics and, for the first time, link the courts with other branches like the jail and victim services.

The exact details of what the new system will look like are still being worked on, but Blaker was able to give some of the broad strokes of what to expect.

The official record of the court is a paper one, and that isn’t going to change, Blaker said.

But JEIN is a more modern web-based system for tracking and managing the files.

It is expected to be up and running some time in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

One of the first steps is to take as many court forms as possible and upload them to the system.

The idea is that documents like probation orders, bench warrants or sentence orders will be automatically filled with information already in the system.

As well, if a judge sends someone to jail, the same system will let the Whitehorse Correctional Centre know. Right now getting everyone on the same page involves phone calls and faxed paperwork.

CRIS runs on a command-line program. That means using arcane codes and keystroke combinations, rather than being able to navigate around with a mouse.

It is not at all intuitive, and one false keystroke can send you down a rabbit hole that is difficult to get out of.

Justice staff will be meeting with people outside the courts who use the computers to find out what they would like in the new system, Blaker said.

Once the court system is up and running, the jail and victim services will be added, Blaker said.

Right now, inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre are tracked with paper files. That means compiling statistics is especially laborious and time-consuming, making it difficult to answer questions or file reports, said spokesperson Megan Foreman.

Victim services has had its own independent computer system since 2012. Before then, paper files were kept at three different offices - Whitehorse, Dawson City and Watson Lake - without any central way to manage them.

Linking their system to JEIN will mean case workers won’t have to sit in the back of courtrooms to get updates on the cases they are working on, said victim services worker Samantha McCormack.

“We’ll have faster access to court information, and we’ll be able to link our files with certain charges too. We’ll get updates a bit quicker.”

The entire JEIN update is expected to cost $3.275 million.

It follows a recent upgrade to the recording system used in Yukon’s courtrooms. The territory was one of the last jurisdictions in the country make this change.

The new Digital Audio Recording System, installed in the fall of 2013, allows judges and lawyers to listen to recordings of court proceedings if they have questions. Rather than having to pay for a whole transcript, “you can order a page, a paragraph or even just a sentence,” said Blaker.

The government used to spend $493,000 a year on transcripts, Blaker said. The total cost with the DARS system is about $90,000 a year.

In Nova Scotia, JEIN and DARS work together.

A “buddy clerk” in another room can listen to what’s going on in court live and get an early start on documents.

Blaker said it’s too early to say if something like that might come to the Yukon.

Contact Ashley Joannou at