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Saturday, February 24, 2024

The judiciary’s battle cries: Efficiency, innovation, access

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“MOPC had 250 guests for the invitation-only gala event and they included luminaries in law, media, business, and the professions”

The Manila Overseas Press Club chaired by me hosted the Judiciary Night on Jan. 27, Friday, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo as guest of honor and speaker. He gave us the Judiciary’s vision in the next five years.

MOPC had 250 guests for the invitation-only gala event and they included luminaries in law, media, business, and the professions.

“Both media and the Judiciary occupy an important place in the democratic firmament of the country. Both serve as a check on government power,” the Chief began his 35-minute speech.

Gesmundo noted: “The Judiciary interprets the law, ensures that the executive and the legislative departments act within the bounds of law, protects the rights and freedoms of the citizens, and ensures that the rule of law is upheld, while media provides the people with information and serves as a platform for public discourse.

“It fosters public debate, enables the people to reach an informed decision on issues, and serves as a watchdog on government abuse. Both must depend solely on truth for the effective discharge of their functions.

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“Media, as an institution, may be viewed as dynamic and progressive, and the Judiciary perceived as conservative and traditional, both similarly had to face the challenges of modern times and, in their respective ways, cope and respond to changing public demands and expectations”

He explained: “The Supreme Court is the visible embodiment of the Philippine Judiciary – one of the co-equal branches of the national government.

“It supervises all lower courts in the country and exercises administrative disciplinary powers over them. True enough, having existed for 121 years, it is an institution steeped in formalistic tradition.”

However, “the digital age has arrived and it has altered not only the landscape of our professions, but also the needs of the people we serve. And in order for us to continue to be relevant in our role in a democratic society, we need to reassess our age-old practices and traditions.”

Comes in the Supreme Court’s Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027 or SPJI, which the Supreme Court launched late last year.

This institutional blueprint for judicial reforms has, as its overarching goal, the delivery of responsive and real-time justice.

The Chief Justice explained: “The SPJI is a plan powered by an Innovation Agenda to review and assess the organizational structure and operations of the various offices of the Judiciary, and to develop and establish an information and communication technology infrastructure for the Philippine Judiciary.

“It is a plan anchored on four guiding principles: Timely and Fair Justice, Transparent and Accountable Justice, Equal and Inclusive Justice, and Technologically Adaptive Management. These principles will propel us towards achieving three outcomes: Efficiency, innovation, and access.”

Excerpts from Chief Justice Gesmundo’s speech:

Under efficiency, “court systems, both adjudicative and administrative shall be streamlined and performance of Justices, Judges, and court officials and personnel shall be effectively monitored and evaluated. We will undertake a judiciary-wide organizational review and restructuring to guide our policy directions.”

“To drive performance excellence, we will institutionalize a socialized health insurance system for officials and employees, and mandate subsidized annual physical and mental health examinations for everyone. Mental Health Units will also be established in all court levels and in our offices.”

For the women in court operations, “we will strengthen and multiply the child-minding centers throughout our courts.”

“We will also step up our campaign to reinforce their ethical responsibility through the revision of the Code of Professional Responsibility under a Campaign for Ethical Responsibility.”

Launched last year, the Ethics Caravan aims to inform and consult members of the bar from every region of the country about the proposed amendments to the CPR “to ensure that the new Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability will not be a moral edifice incapable of real-world application but a product of a broader consensus on what it means to be an ethical Filipino lawyer.”

The Ethics Caravan has reached Manila, after coming from Cebu, Davao, Baguio, and Naga.

“We will also review and update the Code of Judicial Conduct. Recently, we have revised Rule 140 of the Rules of Court on the discipline of members, officials, employees, and personnel of the Judiciary.”

Under innovation, “we will shift and run all our adjudicative and administrative processes to digitalized platforms using the most appropriate and secure technologies, including artificial intelligence for legal research and court operations.

“Our trial courts will continue to transform as electronic courts using the much improved eCourt system version 2. All of these and more will be part of the Judiciary Enterprise ICT Governance Framework, which will be accompanied by a 5-year ICT Plan.”

Meanwhile, “remote appearances and testimonies in court proceedings from individuals within and outside the country have been allowed. …In line with our thrust towards a technology-driven Judiciary, to allow the conduct of all court proceedings through videoconferencing even after the end of the global crisis.

“At the moment, we are using the platform Philippine Judiciary 365, which allowed our continued administration of justice despite the pandemic.”

Last year, “we conducted the first ever localized and digitized bar examinations. In line with our Strategic Plan’s drive towards running all the judiciary’s adjudicative and administrative systems digitally, we have decided to pursue the conduct of all succeeding bar examinations in a digitized format.”

In March 2021, the Supreme Court signed an agreement with Union Bank to develop an ePayment Solution for the Judiciary. “Subsequently, we launched the Judiciary ePayment for Small Claims which is aimed at streamlining the processes of assessment and payment of court fees, increasing accessibility of the public to judicial services, increasing transparency and accountability, and providing the Supreme Court with efficient accounting and auditing mechanisms.”

Under innovation “is the revision of the Rules of Procedure. We have recently reorganized the technical working groups to review the writs of Kalikasan and continuing mandamus, and the writs of amparo and habeas data. Also, a compilation and revision of all the Rules on Pleadings, Practice and Procedure will be the capstone project under this objective.”

Under access, “we will work towards bringing our services faster, closer, and more efficiently to the people. We will start with enhancing public access to information and legal services by strengthening our legal initiatives.”

Last year, the SC conducted a National Summit on Legal Aid which showcased its 2- pronged approach of revitalizing the Integrated Bar’s legal aid program and reinforcing the Clinical Legal Education Program or CLEP under its Revised Rule 138-A.

To enhance CLEP, in December, the SC participated in the Legal Education Board National Summit on Clinical Legal Education.

More in our next column.

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