The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Tuesday commended the Supreme Court’s (SC) modernization program, including its policy on video-conferencing for legal aid cases.
“With hope that modernization will guarantee the benefits stated above, the Commission on Human Rights commends the Supreme Court’s decision that improves accessibility to legal aid for marginalized and vulnerable groups,” the CHR said.
“We acknowledge that this digital innovation will help alleviate the scheduling and budget concerns of volunteer lawyers and free legal aid initiatives offered by government agencies and civil society organizations, especially in cases of human rights litigation,” the agency added.
On Jan. 18, the SC signed a decision permitting video-conferences for legal aid cases through the Office of the Court Administrator Circular No. 13-2023 in response to a request from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
The decision pursues the goals of the SC’s Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027  that seeks to boost the court’s efficiency, innovation, and accessibility through improving its online platforms, modernizing court processes, and strengthening legal aid initiatives for the marginalized, among others. SPJI anchors these changes on the principles of delivering justice that is (i) timely and fair, (ii) transparent and accountable, (iii) equal and inclusive, and (iv) technologically adaptive.
Apart from helping link legal aid lawyers with indigent clients, videoconferencing can potentially keep court processes moving even during circumstances of natural calamities and other unforeseen events, such as fires, strikes, lockdowns; officially declared periods of public emergencies; security risks for a litigant, witness, or counsel that endanger their life and safety as they travel to and from the court; serious health concerns due to age or disability; the need to protect the well-being of victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence; and other compelling reasons deemed justified by the court.
The CHR invoked the legal rights stated in the 1987 Constitution, Republic Act 7438 or An Act Defining Certain Rights of Person Arrested, Detained, or under Custodial Investigation, and RA 9999 or An Act Providing a Mechanism for Free Legal Assistance.
The SC’s decision has promoted everyone’s rights to legal counsel and to the speedy and impartial disposition of cases, regardless of people’s socioeconomic status, it cited.
“As colleagues in the pursuit of justice and the protection and promotion of all Filipino’s human rights, CHR wholly supports the judiciary branch’s commitment to overcome its delay and congestion challenges and renew the general public’s trust and confidence in the Filipino justice system. When our courts improve as they heed the calls of the people who need justice the most, we move closer to being a society capable of upholding the dignity of all,” it stressed.