Moving the wheels of justice
About the most persistent criticism we hear of our administration of justice is the perceived slow pace of judicial adjudication.
There are, of course, various reasons for this, some attributable to the courts, but also some, perhaps sometimes more, attributable to others—absent policemen, burdened prosecutors, overzealous lawyers, reluctant witnesses, dilatory litigants themselves. And we could even add, the slow postal system our courts still use. And still we could just look at the sheer volume of cases entering our court dockets for adjudication!
(Parenthetically, the Supreme Court for the first time in 2015 breached the 5,000 cases mark when it disposed of 5,173 cases that year. In 2016, the Court broke its record by disposing of 6,247 cases. But some will still clamor for improvement, including the high court itself.)
This article is not meant to be an apologia for our judiciary, but we should take note of the ongoing reforms in the judiciary initiated and being conducted under the leadership of the Supreme Court.
And take hope.
I have liberally sourced my facts from the speech—an accomplishment report, really—of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno at the Inaugural Meeting on January 23, 2017 of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).
Speedier court proceedings
In the manner of good management, the Supreme Court (SC), as early as 2012, approved for testing the Quezon City Practice Guidelines that limited the kinds of pleadings that can be filed, prohibit dilatory motions, and observe strict time frames. As the Chief Justice (CJ) reported the result, “They cut down the length of time a case is tried—from 523 days to 194 days in civil cases.”
“Then also in 2012, “the CJ reported, “the Court approved the Judicial Affidavit Rule.
It resulted in reducing the time for presenting the testimonies of witnesses by about two-thirds in Quezon City, where the program was piloted.
In 2013, the SC started to implement the electronics court or eCourts program. The eCourts is a case management system that records all incidents in an information system that shows the age of each case, highlights pending incidents requiring action, notifies judges of deliverables and deadlines, provides them with templates for orders and decisions to fast-track their work, target aged cases, and ultimately reduce case backlogs. Its offshoot project, the automated hearing system, allows judges to also issue orders immediately after hearing.
As of December 2016, eCourts have been implemented in 197 courts in eight cities nationwide, and in this the support of the USAID and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative is acknowledged.
This year, this project is planned to be deployed in 297 courts in 10 cities, covering 30 percent of the trial courts’ caseload. And in the following two years, the implementation will cover all courts in the NCR, Region III and Region IV-A.
Our CJ enthusiastically concludes: “All the 197 courts that are now eCourts have reported dramatic improvements in their ability to dispose and manage their dockets.”
The eCourts—with their laptops, printers and connectivity—have therefore been enabled to adopt the Automated Hearing System where “every activity in a hearing is captured in real time, enabling the court to serve the counsel the written copy of the Order of the Judge in as little as 15 minutes after the order is given in open court, a previously unimaginable court experience.”
We have dealt in some detail here because this is a good story needing to be told in detail to be appreciated.
But there is more good news.
The Hustisyeah, a court decongestion program launched in 2013 and piloted in Quezon City, is bearing fruit. After 14 months piloting, the docket of the Quezon City pilot courts dropped by 30 percent. The program was then rolled out in Makati, Manila, Pasig, Angeles, Cebu and Davao where, as of June 2016, 15,227 cases equivalent to 36 percent of the targeted docket, have been disposed of.
We should note that in this Hustisyeah project, as a follow-through measure, 635 contractual case decongestion officers were assigned to assist overburdened courts, that is, courts which had more than 500 cases in their dockets. (I say, good management decision.)
Again, the CJ concludes: “As of December 2016, we have completed the deployment of the case decongestion officers nationwide. This nationwide deployment is expected to reduce the dockets of the 460 beneficiary courts and produce the same dramatic results as those in the first 7 cities.”
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