CJ Gesmundo bares 5-year SC plan to make courts ‘consistently efficient, accountable’

Published November 27, 2021, 10:21 AM

by Rey Panaligan 

Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo on GOJUST II virtual launch

Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo has laid down the Supreme Court’s (SC) “strategic plan” in the next five years to make the country’s courts “consistently efficient and accountable havens for the disadvantaged, the wronged, the injured.”

“Once and for all, the Judiciary must deliver its services, both adjudicative and administrative, real time,” Gesmundo declared.

The plan was announced by Gesmundo during the virtual launch last Nov. 25 of the Justice Sector Reform Programme: Governance in Justice (GOJUST II), a project supported by the European Union.

During the launch, Gesmundo admitted that the SC “inherited a more than century-old Judiciary that is beset by many problems – institutional, cultural and societal.”

He confessed: “The general populace has routinely expressed dissatisfaction with the slow pace of justice delivery in our country. Whether fairly or not, the courts have been blamed for such case delay. The oft-cited phrase ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ has not lost its sting.”

He pointed out that the Philippine judiciary’s “relevance to society lies in its ability to re-cast itself, to re-shape its traditions, to keep in step with the changing times. Reform is thus a necessity that the Judiciary must embrace for its survival.”

He then requested support and inputs from his SC colleagues in the implementation of the five-year plan.

The five-year plan until 2026, Gesmundo said, is founded on four guiding principles, namely:

“The Filipino people deserve a judiciary possessed of competence, integrity, probity, and independence.

“The Judiciary must provide equal access to justice real time.

“Public confidence in the Judiciary is dependent on transparency and accountability.

“Technology must be the platform on which the basic court systems and processes run.”

Gesmundo said the SC will monitor and evaluate the performance of justices, judges, and court officials and personnel.

“The SC will conduct a top to bottom organizational review and system-wide process mapping, the results of which will provide the basis for the digital infrastructure to be set up, as well as guide the formulation of performance metrics that are experience-based and data-driven to make for a genuinely effective evaluation system,” he said.

He also said: “The SC will launch a Campaign for Ethical Responsibility for the Bench and Bar. The revision of the Code of Professional Responsibility is set to commence which, once approved by the Court En Banc, will be brought around the country via an Ethics Caravan, culminating in a National Summit on Ethical Responsibility.”

To address delay and needs of litigants, the Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC) has set up various Justice Zones in the country where the five pillars of the criminal justice system – courts, prosecution, law enforcement, correctional institutions, and community — can convene and tackle problems, he said.

A Justice Zone is a place “where key programs relating to the delivery of justice are in place which maximizes coordination among the different agency actors to address the perennial issue of delay and the greater problem of accountability,” the Chief Justice said.

“During my tenure, GOJUST will continue to assist us in establishing additional Justice Zones,” he said.

He pointed out that effective legal representation is “the backbone of the due process right to a day court.” But because of the expense, he lamented, many are denied legal representation. “Legal aid should thus be strengthened as the equalizing mechanism,’ he stressed.

The SC allots yearly a budget for legal aid given to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). “Despite this, there is a great room for improvement in the IBP’s Legal Aid Program,” Gesmundo said.

“The IBP should thus step up its Legal Aid Program by requiring its members, as a condition for remaining a member in good standing, to render free legal aid services for a fixed number of hours per year. Such legal aid services should include acting as Supervising Lawyers to Law Student Practitioners under Rule 138-A.”

Rule 138-A, which institutionalized the Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP), should be harnessed by the IBP in coordination with the Legal Education Board (LEB) and the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), he said.

“The IBP through its Chapters should partner with the established Legal Aid Clinics of LEB-accredited law schools in their respective areas,” he added.

“To raise awareness among our people on the availability of free legal aid, a National Summit on Legal Aid will showcase the two-pronged Legal Aid Initiative of the Supreme Court: through the revitalized IBP Legal Aid Program and through the CLEP. The Court will also see to the inclusion of a Database of Free Legal Aid Providers in the Supreme Court Website and the AI platforms of the Judiciary that will be deployed,” he also said.

At the same time, Gesmundo said:

“We shall also ensure 24/7/365 access to court and case-related information and services. Access to court services should not be limited to face-to-face access, especially in this time of pandemic.

“Free and no expense access through electronic or digital means, including social media, will widen the reach of court services and bridge the gap in information between the public and the courts, and hopefully provide our people with a legitimate source of help when confronted with legal issues requiring court intervention. It is also the fastest and most accessible way to deliver needed instructional details to those who need it.

“We shall launch social media Access to Justice info.sites with layman-friendly and easy to understand information on court services and how to access them.

“In line with promoting transparency and accountability in the Judiciary, the Court shall likewise leverage the eCourt system v.2.0 where litigants can track the status of their cases online and in real-time.

“The eCourt system v.2.0 will also allow the public to access judicial services online, including the filing of cases and payment of court fees, and automate court workflow processes and procedures of the entire Judiciary to eliminate opportunities to commit fraud.

“We shall prioritize the development of the Philippine Judiciary ICT Governance Framework, the ICT Strategic Plan (EISP), and the MIS Operations Manual to ensure that we are able to properly manage our ICT resources, align strategic objectives, optimize attending risks, deliver value services, and design new systems that are court user-centric.

“Truly, technology plays a very significant role in the administration of justice. Change and technological evolution shall shape our society, that is why we must be ready to adapt and better ourselves.

“Aside from the eCourt system v.2.0, this Outcome shall include, among others, the launch of the Philippine Judiciary Online Learning Platform which will allow magistrates, court officials and personnel to access ‘easily-digestible’ and well-designed learning content materials that can be immediately applied and embedded in everyday work; and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Powered Legal Research Workspace which will have the ability to provide intelligent legal analysis and suggestions based on the words and phrases (including their context) inputted by the user vis-à-vis the relevant substantive and procedural laws and legal precedents.

“We also aim to utilize AI in performance evaluations, anti-corruption programs, public assistance, and in speeding up the preparation of transcript of stenographic notes.

“The coming five (5) years will be a crucial phase in the history of our Judiciary. The plans, activities and programs embraced in the Strategic Plan form a cohesive framework envisioned and dedicated to re-moulding and transforming our courts into consistently efficient and accountable havens for the disadvantaged, the wronged, the injured.

“It is my express hope that GOJUST will be with us to see this vision come to fruition.”