By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY
For the past few months, I have been attending court hearings for clients of our law office as well as pro bono cases being handled by the Legal Aid Center of the University of Makati’s School of Law.
I began my career as a trial lawyer in the 1960s, and the courts have been familiar territory for more than 20 years until my designation as Makati’s acting mayor immediately after the February, 1986, EDSA Revolution led me to pursue the path of public service.
Returning to the court rooms has given me the opportunity to see for myself how much, or how little, has changed in the delivery of justice and the administration of law since 1986.
Imagine my surprise when, after attending a court hearing at a Makati Regional Trial Court, I was handed a copy of the decision on my way out, just minutes after seeing the judge type the decision on a laptop computer, In the past, a lawyer and his client would have to wait for days, if not weeks, before they could receive a copy of a decision. Now, all it took was less than five minutes.
The introduction of the electronic court or e-court program is among the recent reforms in the judiciary introduced by the Supreme Court.
According to the Supreme Court, the program – which links the computers of the judge, stenographer, and interpreter – allows lawyers and litigants to access and monitor court documents, proceedings, and all aspects of the legal process.
The program was first introduced in 2013, with Makati as one of the pilot sites. Last year, the Supreme Court announced a total of 212 eCourts nationwide. The court targets more eCourts in the coming months.
The computer systems of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, and the Court of Tax Appeal will eventually be linked to one another and to the lower courts. This would allow the tracking of cases from the first level all the way to the Supreme Court.
I was told that these reform efforts actually began in 1998, during the tenure of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide under his Action Program for Judicial Reforms.
Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, who was an associate justice during the Davide Court, published a book in 2002 entitled “Reforming the Judiciary” where he discussed at length the judicial reform program.
Describing the reforms as “pervasive, exhaustive and wide-ranging,” Panganiban wrote that the program would cover computerizing the courts, revisions in the curriculum of law schools, upgrading the bar examinations, rigid screening for candidates to the bench, strict enforcement of professional and judicial ethics, and monitoring the performance of court personnel.
The reforms were not meant to be “merely a broad statement of intent and principles,” he said.
“The Supreme Court is trying its best to change mindsets, modernize procedures, and speed up the delivery of quality justice by a corps of competent, dedicated, honest, and courageous judges. These reform policies are aimed at creating stability in the rule of law and predictability in the rendition of decisions – conditions that are indispensable to economic development and, ultimately, to good governance, he said.
Transparency is at the core of the reform program. When the public is made aware of the manner and process with which cases are handled, it will strengthen the people’s faith and trust in the judiciary.
As noted by former Chief Justice Panganiban: “True, the judiciary must stand, and stand steadfast, on its duty to decide cases according to law and reason. It is true that litigations must be won or lost, not because of popular palatability or accommodation or friendship – not to mention pecuniary consideration – but because of reasoned arguments flowing from legal principles and precedents.
“…I say only with transparency in its proceedings may the judiciary be able to earn and keep residual long-term public trust,” he added.
The slow, at times glacial, disposition of cases has often been cited as one of reasons the people seem to have lost confidence in the justice system.
The belief that the system favors the rich, powerful, and the connected is widely held and has persisted precisely because cases take an eternity to be resolved, to the disadvantage of poor litigants. It further oppresses the innocent, who languish in unjust detention. There is no greater injustice, it has been said, than an innocent person behind bars.
The eCourts, and the other wide-ranging reforms in the judiciary, seek to overturn this belief. We wish the Supreme Court all the success.