Renaissance of the Courts | Investigator’s opinion
Everyone knows that the Philippine justice system has seriously failed us. It’s a litany of failures, excessive delays being just one of them. On this point, I never understood how the Supreme Court could say that the constitutional requirement to adjudicate and resolve cases brought before lower courts was mandatory that they be resolved within one year, but for the Court, the two-year deadline was just a “not mandatory.”
Now, we have a new chief justice who recognized it and promised to fix it. And one of the first things he did on April 5 was to demand Supreme Court justices to settle cases within 24 months. He also instituted a program to unclog the courts.
Alexander Gesmundo, the new chief justice, recently met with a group of businessmen to discuss what he was going to do. And with five years before he turns 70 and retires, he has time to do so.
I do not expect any miracles; the faults are so ingrained that correcting them is a Herculean task. The first that can be easily corrected, however, is to give more money to justice. I know Congress needs to carefully allocate the very limited funds we have. But the law is the foundation of our society. This is the foundation on which a democracy is built, so it must be well funded. And these funds must be under the independent control of the court as a constitutionally independent body. The constitution requires it when it says: “The judiciary enjoys fiscal autonomy. The credits of the judiciary cannot be reduced by the legislator below the amount opened the previous year and, after approval, are released automatically and regularly. Fiscal autonomy means the absence of external control.
The Chief Justice began his presentation with the words “judicial delays are rooted in structural and systemic problems in the administrative and adjudicative operations of the court”. He noted the fundamental flaws from which the justice system must be reshaped.
One of the first things to do is to adapt the justice system to the modern world. This world has gone digital, so the Philippine justice system must follow suit. The CJ recognized this when he stressed the need for a full shift to digital courts – from the functioning of courts (virtual hearings being one) to online filing, electronic notarization and registration. data, and everything in between. The millions of paper documents that fill the rooms must be put on the cloud. The search for precedents should be done in seconds, not days, weeks or months of opening dusty old books.
AI will be brought to the Supreme Court by developing an ICT infrastructure in justice systems over the next two years, as well as instituting an ICT governance framework, for process mapping and system improvements, and for collect data on judicial projects. To achieve this in a short time and in a comprehensive manner, the CJ will examine the possibility of external assistance from experts who have already done so. A first step has been taken by coordinating with Union Bank for electronic payments.
An essential part of this transition to the computer world will be training everyone from judges to court clerks on how to become computer literate. This training will be part of the process.
Another thing I liked was the devolution of power. I have always opposed central control. Decisions should be made at the lowest possible level. Chief Justice Gesmundo recognizes this and will delegate the administrative functions of the Supreme Court to administrators and managers of regional courts.
It will also create a central planning and management unit to put some order in the direction the courts need to take. Also, a special committee to study the improvements to be made to the administration of the judicial system. A number of reviews will now be carried out in a professional manner and will cover the rules of procedure and performance of any project being introduced, including the functions, duties and remuneration of lower courts. All with defined deadlines. This bodes well for positive change.
What was not discussed was one of the biggest issues: corruption. Anecdotal stories abound. It’s a shame it was not covered, as corruption and slowness are the two most frequently heard complaints against the courts. We had a land ownership case that went on for 20 years and then was tried against us on very questionable grounds.
Corruption runs throughout government and is a major obstacle to the development of the Philippines as a middle income country. Although this has not been covered, the CJ recognizes the problem and has established a Judicial Integrity Council and a Corruption Investigation and Prevention Bureau, but Congress must fund these initiatives. And they need teeth.
I know it’s easy to make promises. God knows that we have had enough of these, who are then too seldom encountered. But there was a seriousness in this meeting that came through. Gesmundo may not be completely successful, but he will try. We wish him all the best in this essay. The Philippine courts certainly need it.
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