Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quezon City Courts Try Out eCourt System; Quandary on 72-Hour TRO

Quezon City trial courts, and offices of clerks of court, on Tue, May 2, 2013, commenced its month-long trial run of the eCourt system (electronic court filing), under the circular issued by Court Administrator Midas Marquez, to evaluate its effectiveness: accuracy, security, and integrity.

The eCourt system is constituent to SC’s Enterprise System Plan for the judiciary. If all goes well, eCourt system goes live next month covering recording, docketing, monitoring, and reporting case information on all active cases that are in the database. Last month, also on order and authority of the Court Administrator, Quezon City trial courts suspended hearings (except on urgent matters) to take on the herculean task of encoding all active cases into the database.
Once implemented, the public will have access to information on status of cases filed with and being heard at the local courts.

I visited the Quezon City Hall of Justice to observe its implementation. Expectedly, the day one of the dry run was all but smooth. Understandably, considering the average age for court employees, which is out of tech-savvy range, birth pains are abound, with personnel visibly handicapped by the new system. But the personnel concerned have to catch up quickly if this is to benefit the thousands of parties, who have long been yearning for relief from the tedious and onerous process of monitoring a case, out of the convenience and accessibility this automation is poised to bring about.
On the lighter side, with sufficient IT contingent, apparently patiently putting up with questions at almost every step from non-techie lot of the personnel, I am confident we stand to escape frustration.

On the more contentious side, though, since a feature of the automated system is to automatically raffle a case upon docketing, this seems to have overlooked the requirements of Notice of Raffle, and Raffle in the Presence of the Defendant, in cases where a 72-hour Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is prayed for.
Incidentally, there was such a case on day one. Consequently, there was a little confusion when the counsel, handed with his copy of the complaint bearing on its face the court to which such was raffled, raised the concern regarding the aforecited requirements of the law under Rule 58 of the Revised Rules of Court. Basically, what he was saying was should he just helplessly accept that his prayer, grounded on extreme urgency and irreparable injury, at that, would simply meet certain denial for failure to comply with the said requirements even when he consciously intended to so do?

Stunned, the personnel concerned could not give any answer, except to cite that the automatic raffle of the case to assigned court is requisite to completing the transaction (filing). Wary of the prospect of denial, the counsel went to the court admin office where the case was raffled to ask the same question: What would happen to his prayer for a 72-hour TRO where a raffle is done without the required Notice to Raffle, and eventual presence during raffle of, the defendant? Sadly, the court personnel were just as stunned and confused, saying only “oo nga no? paano yan?”
The issue resulted in an impasse, with the lawyer leaving the hall with his question unanswered. He must have left the fate of his quandary upon the judge. After all, if the judge schedules the hearing without the required notice, and eventually grants the TRO, the opposing party may appeal, hopefully up to the Supreme Court, so that the Court may resolve the issue early for the enlightenment and guidance of the courts a quoand the legal practitioners.

Otherwise, this seeming misplaced feature stands to mar this otherwise laudable innovation with a controversial oversight that effectually takes away, by technical limitation, what the law clearly provides.
As a lawyer, I will dare to throw my own two cents on the issue. I think the process can stand as it is now. Since the purpose sought to be served or the evil sought to be prevented by requiring that there be a notice of raffle, and the defendant be present in the conduct of the raffle itself, is the experience in the past where raffles were staged and rigged so that judges of their (parties) choice take the case, either due to the latter’s personal bias for or against the issue involved, or something else as brutally alluded to in the past as prearranged decision. The automated/automatic and no-human-intervention nature of the raffle in the eCourt system removes that evil or that problem, which brought about the need for the notice of raffle in the first place.

Having removed the evil, it serves no purpose, rather defeats the very purpose of eCourt system and the Court’s long battle cry, of expediting resolution of cases, if we put another layer in the process where its absence will only cut it by a third, without sacrificing the rights of any parties involved.

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