Summary of the Audit of Information Management (IM)

The audit, conducted between October 2004 and March 2005 by external experts, aimed at providing assurance services about the Court's information management framework (including paper and electronic holdings of Court and administrative records, and excluding Library information assets). For the purposes of the audit, "Court records" are defined as those documents filed in a case file, and "administrative records", those used by the Court to support its business activities (including HR, finance, and corporate planning, as well as judicial documents that are not part of the case file, such as drafts of judgments and research memos).

While the audit covered Court information holdings since 1994, emphasis was placed on assessing the current situation. The audit included sampling files and documents from every unit of the Court. The audit's examination of available information provided an independent assessment of the soundness of governance structures, control mechanisms, policies and practices, risk management strategies, and information used for decision-making and reporting as it relates to the management of information. Audit criteria for this engagement were taken from the Information Management Capacity Check tool from Library and Archives Canada and the Management of Government Information Policy from Treasury Board.

Audit findings, grouped by type of records, are summarized below:

Court Records are recognized by all Court staff as a critical part of the Court business and senior management values consistent management for these records. Court Records staff have the required functional skills, and the staffing of a Manager position should ensure that all required expertise is available. The processes of Court Records, which are generally managed as paper files, are reliable, consistent and sufficient to support core business. A classification standard for case files, based on case number, is widely used. Appropriate measures are taken to protect original documents: original copies remain in the custody of the Court Records Office; only copies are distributed/made for internal and external use; Court Records Office staff follow and promote consistent practices; and, Law Branch staff receive training in handling Court Records. The auditors observed no examples of lost or compromised information during this audit. Automated systems are reliable and tools meet staff needs.

Recommended improvements to reduce any risks observed that could affect the perceived integrity of Court Records include:

  • Develop/update IM policies and procedures and make them readily available to all Court staff.
  • Update and clarify the Memorandum of Understanding with National Archives.
  • Develop/update secure handling practices.

Administrative Records are recognized by most staff as supporting the business activities of the Court, and senior managers demonstrate commitment to ensuring their consistent management. The recently established LISS sector has the mandate to provide leadership and expertise on information management for all Supreme Court business activities, but not all staff interviewed were aware of the services available. The centralized Information Holdings Office provides services to support consistent organization and management of paper records, but as the use of electronic documents increased, adequate tools to manage this information were lacking, resulting in the following problems.

  • Staff are unsure when and how to manage and preserve electronic documents;
  • The definition of the "official record" is becoming blurred as electronic documents become more prevalent;
  • There is a lack of consistency in version control and document naming standards (documents are inconsistently organized and managed);
  • Duplication of information exists across repositories, leading to an "information overload".

Tools for managing paper files need to be updated. Policies and procedures are out-of-date, or missing. The subject-based file classification system used as an organization/finding aid is out of date, and a new function-based classification system is under development. No training in classification is offered, and the system is not well understood or consistently used by many staff. Retention and disposition schedules have been developed and need yet to be implemented.

Information Holdings services are used appropriately by those staff who have a formal liaison role with Information Holdings (e.g. administrative assistants). Many other staff do not use the services due to lack of awareness, or perceived constraints. Training needs to be revisited and aligned with today's reality.

The audit made a number of recommendations, to which the Court has agreed. The audit included an action plan to put in place improvements to how the Court manages its information base over the next three fiscal years, including the implementation of electronic document management capacity.