The new normal: A technology-driven judiciary

VIEWS FROM THE RIDGE

Atty. Jed Sherwin G. Uy
eCourt Project Manager, Supreme Court
PHILJA Court Technology Department

In a chance encounter with then Associate Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, our conversation took a serious turn when he learned that I am a lawyer engaged in computer work. His questions heavily hinted at his interest in computers and in tapping them for court operations.

True enough, in his JBC interview, he unhesitatingly outlined how as Chief Justice he would highlight new technology and computerization.  He reiterated this plan in his first public message as Chief Justice during the Court’s anniversary last June 11, 2021.

He is implementing these plans now. Without fanfare and in his trademark low key approach, he is leading the judiciary – its personnel, systems, and operations, into new technology; we are now technology-driven in addressing our challenges, many of them foundational issues arising from decades-old bureaucratic mindsets. We are now quietly ensuring our resiliency, business continuity and systemic flexibility.

A case in point is the COVID-19 pandemic that could have paralyzed operations had our systems and people been less nimble and resilient. Immediately after the first community quarantine in March 2020, we immediately digitalized our existing manuals of court practices and relaxed judicial rules to allow greater use of electronic processes.

Through the Philippine Judiciary 365 accounts and its applications across all courts and judiciary offices in the country, judicial operations remained operational despite the constraints that the pandemic posed. Our people are bearing the adjustment pains patiently and embracing the changes and improvements enthusiastically.

We now have the facility to electronically receive pleadings and other court submissions securely; to hear and decide cases via videoconferencing; to allow parties to present their arguments and evidence remotely and/or via shared document libraries, subject to certain safeguards and conditions; to generate transcripts of stenographic notes of videoconferencing hearings in real-time; to automate rudimentary administrative tasks; to quickly organize court calendars; to quickly collaborate among court staff and manage their tasking or assignments, among others.

As Court Administrator Midas P. Marquez has previously written, our courts have conducted some 397,605 video conference hearings nationwide as of July 2021, with a success rate of 87.75 percent.

The Chief Justice himself mentioned that the time spent to prepare transcripts of stenographic notes has been reduced by half because of the use of the Live Transcription feature available in the Philippine Judiciary 365.

We are using this facility to conduct meetings and conferences – including the first-ever virtual Town Hall Meeting held last April 13, 2021 between the Justices of the Court led by Chief Justice Gesmundo, and all 2,000 judges and trial court personnel, to discuss COVID-19 and pandemic adjustment concerns. Chief Justice Gesmundo was then at the Supreme Court Division Hearing Room with the others attending remotely from their respective homes or offices.

Even PHILJA’s judicial training programs, initially hindered by the need to avoid the traditional face-to-face settings, responded through the use of technology. It fast-tracked the implementation of its online training programs as one of several alternatives to face-to-face programs.

PHILJA launched its first online training program – “Orientation Seminar-Workshop for Newly Appointed Judges (Part 1) via Blended Learning” – in June-July 2020.

Since then, PHILJA has been conducting its training programs, online and at its pre-pandemic pace, to maintain its pedagogical approach aimed at attaining judicial excellence.  Since then, too, it has fully been responding to developing challenges and innovating, learning new and valuable lessons in the process.

One valuable lesson learned is the balanced approach that must be maintained in delivering distance education. Online courses demand more attention from the participants, while trainers need to see their audience to allow them to appropriately adjust their teaching styles.

PHILJA is meeting these recognized needs through the Learning Management System (LMS) project being spearheaded by the Chief Justice, by creating and using learning contents and interactive materials specifically designed for online delivery.

The LMS will allow magistrates, court officials, and employees to access courses “on-demand” or at their most convenient time, whether in the office or at the comfort of their homes, thus allowing participants to completely control their time and to focus on adjudication of cases when and as needed.It hopes that these “easily-digestible” learning materials would further heighten our judicial learners’ motivation for career enhancement.

The fervent hope, too, is to eventually develop the spirit of self-learning within the judiciary and to promote healthy discussions and exchanges of ideas and best practices through forum and chatroom groups.

These are only a few of the transformational changes now happening at the Judiciary – all geared to the development of enhanced competence, new and improved skills, and the encouragement of the drive to excel – vital for magistrates, court officials, and employees in upholding the rule of law in today’s age of the new normal.

 
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