By Rey Panaligan
Hearings via video conferencing, particularly on cases involving persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), will continue in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ), Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez said on Sunday (May 31).
Marquez said the decision to continue with video conferencing was prompted by its success in the release of PDLs to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in jail facilities in the country.
He said that since May 4, some 1,350 trial courts have conducted 7,624 hearings via video conferencing that resulted in the release of 22,522 PDLs who were mostly detained at the lockup cells of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“Hence in GCQ areas, if a party wishes that a testimony of a witness be heard via video conferencing, the proper motion just needs to be filed in court, and the judge, using his or her sound discretion, can either grant or deny the motion,” Marquez said.
Video conferencing can be done in both criminal and civil cases and is authorized by Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta in previous circulars, he said.
PDLs are persons charged in court with criminal offenses and violations of city and municipal ordinances and are detained while petitioning to post bail, attending hearings, and awaiting the decisions on their cases.
Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta earlier issued a circular announcing that all courts nationwide will be in full operation starting Monday (June 1).
In Metro Manila, courts will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Courts outside Metro Manila will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Night courts and Saturday courts remain suspended.
Peralta said that since mass transportation is not yet in full operation in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ), “the courts and offices of the courts may continue to function at work with a skeleton staff….”
The other salient points of the circular are:
1. Inquiries on cases should be done online through the hotline numbers, email addresses and Facebook accounts which can be viewed at the Supreme Court (SC) website – sc.judiciary.gov.ph.
2. No walk-in requests will be entertained by any court and its offices.
3. The filing of criminal and civil cases and pleadings by parties in pending cases may be done either manually or electronically (online).
4. The raffle of cases will be done electronically in the presence of only the members of the raffle committee. Excluded from the raffle are the private lawyers and the public.
5. Hearings of cases will be done in court, except those involving persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) whose hearings and resolution of motions should be done via video conferencing.
6. The continuous trial of criminal cases will be done with courts adopting a system of hearings to implement it.
7. The pre-trial of cases should be set and an accused who has been granted bail need not appear in court except in cases when his or her appearance in court is necessary.
8. Health hygiene protocols and other public medical standards like wearing of mask and face shield will be strictly observed.
9. Justices and judges should be present in their courtrooms or chambers during video conferencing, except in cases where they may preside from home with prior permission from the Office of the Court Administrator as far as trial courts are concerned.
10. There will be no extension in the filing of petitions, appeals, complaints, motions, pleadings, and other court submissions that will fall due starting June 1, 2020.
11. Flag raising and retreat ceremonies remain suspended. The flag will be raised Monday morning and retreated Friday afternoon.
12. Meetings, seminars, trainings, and other functions in the judiciary, unless conducted via video conferencing, should be deferred, except those that may be called or authorized by the chief justice or by the Judiciary Task Force on COVID-19.