CJ Gesmundo cites digital push, reforms in judiciary

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CHIEF Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo on Thursday provided an update on the High Court’s push for digital initiatives in court procedures as part of a six-year Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations to streamline court systems and procedures, as well as allow for a more inclusive and responsive judiciary.

Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo (fourth from left, second row) joins RCM officers and members, including former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III, Mr. Jackie Rodriguez and Atty. Alex Cureg.

Addressing the 35th weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Manila at the Conrad Hotel, the chief magistrate likened the judicial innovations to the four way test of the Rotary’s ideals of truth, fairness, goodwill and being beneficial to all concerned.

“The four-way test encapsulates the measure” by which court decisions should be made, CJ Gesmundo said, adding that the innovations underway include the review even of law subjects considered out of tune with the times, the need for abbreviated court proceedings and incorporating arbitration as a key to resolving disputes.

The Chief Justice said the Rules of Court are to be reviewed and changes incorporated to keep pace with the Supreme Court’s thrust to unclog the court dockets. One example: sometimes court proceedings involve the unnecessary reading of a motion by the judge. In its place, he added , will be a 15-day deadline for the judge to act on the motion.

One key revision contemplated in the Rules of Court involve the need for a party in a civil case to first exhaust the arbitral procedure before the case can be filed.

ADR a must

Asked in the open forum to elaborate, he said the Supreme Court is eyeing to bar the filing of civil actions directly before the courts as part of its program to decongest courts dockets and address delays in the resolution of cases.

“Let me share with you what’s happening in the Court. As I said earlier, we are revising the entire rules of court and among the innovations that we will propose is, you cannot file a civil case in any court without prior exhaustion of alternative dispute resolution,” CJ Gesmundo said.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to resolving disputes without litigation or through out-of-court settlement.

Among the agencies allowed to use ADR are the Katarungang Pambarangay, the Philippine Construction Industry Arbitration Commission (PCIAC), the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center Inc., the National Conciliation and Mediation Board and several others.

Gesmundo said parties in a civil case should resort first to ADR prior to bringing the case before the court.

“You resort to that in good faith because otherwise you cannot file a case,  a civil action before any court unless you have proven this alternative mode of dispute  resolution,” he explained.

The use of ADR to settle civil cases, according to CJ Gesmundo, should be a “precedent condition” prior to the filing in court.

“So let’s try to explore the avenue of making it a precedent condition, show us first that you exhausted alternative dispute resolution, mediation or whatever before you can file a case in court,” he added.

In order to ensure that agreements reached through ADR mechanisms are executed, Gesmundo said parties should come to court and file a petition for judicial confirmation of settlement.

“That decision becomes final immediately and subject to execution. That will protect both parties and ensure that the agreement is executed.”

In an ambush interview, Gesmundo told BusinessMirror that ADR would serve as “filtering mechanisms” to prevent the clogging of dockets with   cases that may be resolved through either mediation, arbitration or conciliation.

He said the proposal will cover all types of civil cases.

In his speech before the RCM’s officials and members, CJ Gesmundo discussed his programs anew under the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations (SPJI), the blueprint of the judiciary for 2022-2027 that is envisioned to hasten court proceedings, processes and resolution of cases.

The SPJI is a plan to review and assess the organizational structure and operations of the various offices of the judiciary, and to develop and establish its information and communications technology infrastructure for the delivery of “responsive and real-time justice.”

He also cited recent accomplishments of the Court under the SPJI: promulgation of the so-called bible for legal practitioners, the new Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA), containing new Lawyers’ Oath that reflects the true duties and responsibilities of lawyers in the country; the adoption of the Guidelines for the Use of Gender Fair Language in the Judiciary and Gender-Fair Courtroom Etiquette;  updating of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the revision of Rule 140 of the Rules of Curt on the discipline of members, officials, employees, and personnel of the judiciary.

“The SPJI is only the beginning, but we believe it will set the groundwork for an ever-improving judiciary. By improving the judiciary’s ability to serve the public through increased efficiency, continuing innovation, and measures to ensure the accessibility of the courts to all, the judiciary will better realize its duty of dispensing justice and safeguarding human and constitutional rights,” the Chief Justice said.

Next year, the Rules of Court are expected to have been revised, CJ Gesmundo said, adding that rules that contribute to the clogging of court dockets will be fine-tuned to keep with the mandate of the Supreme Court to do away with lengthy court decisions.

In the future all court filings will be in digital format, a way forward for the embrace of technology that the High Court has envisioned. The e-filings will allow everyone to have access to “effective platform” and obtain redress.

The six-year strategic plan which will culminate in 2027 or a year after the tenure of CJ Gesmundo, is a plan with clear guiding principles, definite work plan and a portfolio of projects and achievable outcomes.

This includes the dispatch of Justice on Wheels to courts that have clogged dockets . The Justice on Wheels involve the use of specially marked buses that will hear cases with judges inside the buses. This is part of the agenda of CJ Gesmundo when he took over as the 27th chief magistrate.

The chief justice revealed that the strict setting of deadlines arose from his earlier work as a financial journalist in the Business Day where he pore over financial statements, reviewed them and submitted stories within the set deadlines.

His training as a journalist came in handy, said Gesmundo, when the strategic initiatives were conceptualized to address court case clogging , ensure that even the marginalized sector get a shot at justice and even redesign the Rules of Court.

Image credits: Nonoy Lacza, Susan Cambri