SC allows public to access court hearings via video conferencing

Published October 11, 2020, 9:07 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

The Supreme Court (SC) now allows the public, with the approval of the judges, to access online all trial court hearings through video conferencing in criminal and civil cases.

But the SC, in a circular issued by Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez, said that the online hearings “are official court proceedings, and hence, a person may be held liable for direct contempt… for any misbehavior as to obstruct or interrupt, including unauthorized recording of the proceedings….”        

Video conferencing was adopted by the SC last May, first on hearings in criminal cases in selected trial courts and later even in civil cases, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic that prompted restrictions on mass gatherings even in court rooms and offices.        

It was one of the measures adopted by the SC to expedite resolution of criminal cases to decongest jails and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among persons deprived of liberty (PDLs).       

Also, the SC – due to COVID-19 – allowed the online filing of petitions and other court pleadings and required documents.         

The online hearings will enable suspects in criminal cases to testify and be cross-examined right inside their detention cells.          

On criminal cases, Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta said the online hearings are applied to all PDLs “on all stages of trial of newly-filed and pending criminal cases, including but not limited to, arraignment, pre-trial, bail hearings, trial proper, and promulgation of judgment.          

As of August 14, a total of 58,625 PDLs have been ordered released by trial courts through hearings via video conferencing.         

Now, all trial courts in the country are allowed by the SC to utilize video conferencing in all their hearings.       

In a circular dated Oct. 9, 2020 issued by Marquez, the SC said the public’s access to hearings via video conferencing “will further comply with the constitutional right of the accused to public trial, and to resemble or mirror more… the in-court proceedings.”          

The circular stated that an individual who wishes to access the hearings through video conferencing should send an electronic mail (email) to the judge three days before the scheduled hearing through the Philippine Judiciary Office 365 email addresses listed in the SC’s website,         

It also stated that the email should contain the individual’s full name, email address, contact number, and scanned copy of a government issued identification card and his or her photograph and signature.         

“The court shall have the discretion to refuse access if it finds that the information given is erroneous or fictitious,” the circular stated          

It also pointed out that “the court, in its discretion, may exclude the public when the evidence to be adduced is of such nature as to require their exclusion in the interest of morality or decency… or when a child will testify….”         

“The court, in the exercise of its inherent power ‘to protect and preserve its dignity, the solemnity of the proceedings thereon,’ may also order a person’s removal from the video conferencing hearing,” it stressed.         

“Proper court decorum shall likewise be observed at all times and all those participating therein shall be in appropriate attire,” it added.         

Marquez said that since May 4, a total of 106,666 hearings via video conferencing have been conducted by trial courts “with an average success rate of 88.50 per cent.”