With Due Respect

Automating the judiciary

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The Supreme Court launched recently in the Regional and Metropolitan Trial Courts of Quezon City a new pilot program, called “eCourt,” to automate the trial courts. The aim is to speed up the delivery of justice by reducing case processing time, eliminate sources of graft, and improve public access to performance information in the lower courts.

Brief backgrounder. In the 1990s, the Supreme Court began computerizing its administrative, personnel and financial processes via stand-alone programs. Later, during the term of Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr., which started on Nov. 30, 1998, the Court embarked on the computerization of the entire judiciary through its Action Program for Judicial Reform or APJR. Among the many projects of the APJR is the electronic library which was conceived by Justice Antonio T. Carpio.

With the support of the US Agency for International Development, (USAid), the Court, under CJ Davide, pilot-tested in Pasay City the Case Management System or CAS, a computer program designed to expedite the resolution of cases through the effective monitoring and strict observance of time limits of case events from filing to disposition.

A second APJR computerization project, the Court Administrative Management Information System or Camis, supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (Cida), was simultaneously tested in Metro Manila. It aimed to build and strengthen the capability of the Office of the Court Administrator to evolve a system of tracking the more than 800,000 pending cases in the trial courts.

During my term as chief justice, the Court, with the help also of USAid, fully computerized the processes at the Sandiganbayan via an improved version of CAS called Case Management and Information System (CMIS). The antigraft court was then headed by Presiding Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, now a member of the Supreme Court and chair of its committee on computerization.

Transparency and good governance. The eCourt was launched by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, Justices De Castro and Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, Court Administrator Midas P. Marquez and Executive Judge Fernando Sagun Jr. It is also supported by the USAid and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative or ABA-ROLE headed by Robert C. La Mont. It incorporates the lessons learned in the APJR and improved the past systems in various ways:

First, the new program includes the payment of docket fees, which will be collected and accounted for more transparently and systematically, unlike in the manual system which was both slow and susceptible to corruption.

Second, new cases were automatically raffled, without the use of the old  tambiolos  (manually-operated roulettes) which could be manipulated to enable parties to select “friendly” judges.

Third, eCourt flagged detention prisoners to show their places and length of detention. At present, the accused who are too poor to post bail, or who are charged with capital offenses (and thus not bailable) are detained indefinitely in cramped and overloaded jails simply because there is no system to monitor them. Often, they are forgotten and indefinitely detained.

Fourth, the new system automatically produced periodic and easy-to-comprehend reports.

Indeed, technology is being harnessed to assist the judiciary to declog its dockets, open its processes to public scrutiny, and eliminate occasions for graft. In the words of Chief Justice Sereno, computerization “will put the seal of transparency and good governance on the courts.”

Suggested improvements. Once the pilot in the QC courts is freed of electronic bugs, it will be rolled out “in major economic centers” nationwide. This is, of course, most welcome and long overdue.

However, beyond these improvements, I believe that computerization should not be restricted to stand-alone systems. It should encompass the whole judiciary including the appellate courts and the Supreme Court. I know that under Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr., the Court of Appeals successfully installed its own computer program and reduced its backlog to a bare minimum.

However, I think the Court of Appeals system, as well as that of the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Tax Appeals, and the Supreme Court should be electronically standardized and interconnected seamlessly with the eCourt system of the trial courts.

Case numbering is an example of an item that needs to be standardized and integrated in judicial automation. Under the present system, the case number in the city and municipal courts (where most cases originate) is not carried through to the  regional trial courts. When the case is elevated to the appellate courts, it is assigned a new number, and still another when it reaches the Supreme Court. Worse, trial courts in the various regions have different ways of numbering their cases.

As a result, it is difficult to identify the origin of appealed cases. This erratic case numbering requires the tedious and time-consuming elevation of the hard copies of lower court records before the appellate courts and the Supreme Court can review them, thereby causing long delays.

However, once computerization is standardized and interconnected, the appeal process will be simplified because the original case records, often quite voluminous, can be electronically elevated with a click on a computer keyboard.

Finally, the entire system should be connected to the Internet for easy access by the public.

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Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com

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  • parengtony

    Same initiatives need to happen at the prosecutorial level, asap. With their hearts and minds genuinely focused and determined to achieve transparency objectives, de Lima et al is more than capable of making it happen. Besides, highly developed systems are surely available so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Pronto, says Juan de la Cruz.

  • Good_Governance

    This clearly-written article on the use of IT in our judiciary system is truly remarkable considering that the author, retired CJ Panganiban, is close to 77 years old. It shows that IT can also be understood, fully appreciated and even mastered by our more senior citizens who are mentally open to grasping its possibilities. Thank you, CJ Panganiban, for this article, especially for your suggestions to develop a consistent case numbering system and a truly integrated and transparent IT system ranging from the Supreme Court to all the lower courts. Hopefully with such a system in place we can reduce corruption in our courts and avoid miscarriages of justice such as prolonged detention of the accused without charges being brought against them. Of course, the benefits of IT as a tool can only be fully realized if we pay more attention to the selection and vetting of candidates for judgeships, and improve the incentives for efficient and effective performance of our existing judges.

  • Cue_Vas

    Lawyers should stop wining and dining judges and justices, period.

  • buninay1

    Aside from computerization, the judiciary should also look into the feasibility of translating the legal transcripts into Filipino or Tagalog so people who are more comfortable with the vernacular can appreciate/understand the formulation of justice in our land. As the saying goes, so much can be lost in translation but more so in the untranslated version.

    • alfred sanchez

      tagalog is a very hard language, even you can not translate your comment into one, try it

      • ApoNiLolo

        Liban sa kompyuterisasyon, dapat tingnan din ng hudikatura ang kakayahan ng makinang ito sa pag salin ng mga dokumentong legal sa Filipino o Tagalog. Para maintindihan at malinawan ng mamamayang mas sanay bumasa sa wikang ito kung ano ang mga nakasaad sa mga hatol batay sa batas ng ating bansa. Me kasabihan – Ang buod ng isang ideya ay maaring mawalay sa pagsalin, subalit, ang buod ng isang ideya ay maaring tuluyang mawala pag hindi isinalin.

        (Isang halimbawa lamang para ipamalas na ang wikang Filipino ay may kakayahang makibagay sa mga pangunahing wika ng mundo.)

        : )

  • apollo agcaoili

    A simplified tax process (for example, VAT) can result in a fairer, more efficient system, because the rich can’t easily evade taxes. Perhaps society can similarly benefit from a drastic simplification of the legal system? We need a system that non-lawyers can understand, that encourages speedy resolution of cases, that discourages endless legal posturing and dilatory tactics, that contains few loopholes that allow the rich to easily evade criminal liability. Such as system would be neither “grand” nor eloquent, but it will be effective. It will be just.

  • josh_alexei

    I am not too sure if there is the a “small claim court” within the court system where claims or dispute among or between individuals to a specific amount for example of up to 50 thousands can be settled or litigated. where parties can just file their statements of Claims and Defense and let the Judge decide on the case on the Jiffy..probono legal counsel will be provided or available from volunteers,
    And also to avoid upsetting the Scheduled court hearings stop this nonsense of declaring without advance years of notice of declaring non Working Holidays.

  • Fulpol

    “centralized feedback loop system”.. higher authority in Judiciary will immediately send notices to lower courts and ordered the lower courts to check the status of the case or even to prioritize the case as requested by concerned parties..

    concerned parties can inquire about the status of the case by just filling up a form in the Judiciary website..

    just a thought though..

  • Erewhon Revisited

    This is good. But we need to clean the judiciary first.

    “Expecto Patronum!!!”

  • mad_as_Hamlet

    * * * * * * * *
    “Finding, as per the Scan Report of the eClerk of Court, that Respondent’s eMotion dated January 1, 2020 contains or is embedded with Viruses, Worms, Trojans, and some other still unidentified spyware, Respondent’s eMotion is hereby declared as a junk or spam eMotion/ePleading and permanently deleted from this eCourt’s eQuarantine Vault.

    Further, Respondent’s Counsel is hereby directed to explain and show cause why he should not be held in eContempt of court and in violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, within 15 days from his receipt hereof at the eMail address he indicated. Counsel is hereby advised to check his Spam eMail Folder as required
    under eRule 21, it being the responsibility of eFilers to make sure that their Anti-Spam eMail settings assure receipt of all eOrders coming from this eCourt at their principal eMail Inbox.

    This is without prejudice to Respondent, in lieu of an explanation, eRe-filing instead a clean, virus-free, wormless, trojanless, and spyware-free copy of the same eMotion provided he pays again the required eMotion filing fee through this eCourt’s Paypal Account. eHem . . .”
    – – -

  • tlb6432

    this computerization helps..wherever you can minimize the point where bribery or corruption takes place, then it is on the right direction.. in time, hopefully, there will be less folks that can say ‘justice delayed is justice denied’…

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