North Carolina Bill 865, currently awaiting Governor Pat McCrory’s signature, could allow for electronic filing and remote appearances for Domestic Violence Protective Orders and Civil No-Contact Orders. Among other measures, NC HB 465 authorizes the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts “to develop a program for electronic filing in Chapter 50B and Chapter 50C cases.” Chapter 50B sets for the law for Domestic Violence Protective Orders and Chapter 50C controls Civil No-Contact Orders. Governor McCrory has indicated that he will sign the Bill into law soon.
Many states already have electronic filing systems for civil court matters, which save time and court resources. In North Carolina, documents filed with the courts are still done the old-fashioned way—by presenting a hard copy to the Clerk of Court, in person, for file-stamping and filing. HB 465 does not allow for electronic filing in all cases, likely because the infrastructure to establish state-wide electronic filing would be substantial. Instead, HB 465 limits electronic filing to claims of domestic violence, which are often urgent matters that must be dealt with expediently. Allowing for electronic filing has the potential to speed up the process of obtaining protection for those who have been harmed. The program could provide as a useful pilot for electronic filing in all North Carolina cases.
HB 465 also includes a provision that allows for court appearances via video conference at an Ex Parte Hearing for Domestic Violence. Generally, when a party seeks a Domestic Violence Protective Order or Civil No-Contact Order, they have the right to have a temporary hearing, known as an Ex Parte Hearing, which occurs in the absence of the accused party. The ability to attend this initial hearing via video conference, in addition to electronic filing, would eliminate the need to initially appear in person at the local Courthouse to seek protection from Domestic Violence and could provide more expedient relief.
If and when HB 465 is signed into law by Governor McCrory, it will mark a huge leap forward in the technological capabilities of the North Carolina Court system. The infrastructure for electronic filing and remote video appearances could possibly serve as a catalyst for future innovation in the North Carolina Judicial System. In the meantime, the law will likely provide for speedier relief for victims of Domestic Violence.