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SC begins deliberations on video conferencing rules for court proceedings

The Supreme Court has started deliberations on proposed rules governing the conduct of video conferencing, which the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated.

In his first-ever online press conference—which happened to coincide with the 119th anniversary of the Supreme Court—Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said they are addressing concerns, including those raised by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, on the constitutionality of video conferences for court proceedings.

“There is no rule that allows video conferencing except that one that is now under pilot testing in Davao. With the problem that came with the closure of courts and only urgent matters were being taken up, there were concerns brought to me by judges and even practitioners, especially the Court Administrator, that we have to do something,” Peralta said.

One concern raised is territorial jurisdiction, which has been resolved.

“If you are a judge in Manila, then your territorial jurisdiction is only within Manila. Should you conduct a video conferencing in your residence somewhere in Parañaque, there is a question whether or not that judge can hear a hearing outside the territorial jurisdiction. That’s one of the concerns of Justice Leonen. But we were able to resolve that because under the rules of court, there is what we call a mode of discovery which we call oral deposition. And in oral deposition, the testimony of the witness may be taken outside the territorial jurisdiction of the court. Video conference is akin to a deposition. That is the one that justifies the video conferencing when the courts are closed,” the chief justice explained.

Video conferencing is being pilot-tested in Davao, but to address concerns related to the pandemic, Peralta expanded the coverage to other areas.

During the lockdown, more than 1,000 courts conducted video conferencing, with an average success rate of 94%, the Chief Justice said.

As a result, more than 22,000 persons deprived of liberty were released during the said period.

But video conferencing has limitations.

“There may be no problem now in civil cases, but there may be a problem of video conferencing in the testimony of a criminal case because the accused might raise the issue that I have the right to confront the witnesses and a trial should be public in nature," Peralta said.

"There is what we call demonstrative evidence where [when] a witness is testifying, he can be cross-examined by asking him to sketch the places where the incidents took place. He might also be asked to demonstrate how the victim was killed or how the accused defended himself in self-defense. You cannot do that in video conferencing."

With courts opening with the implementation of the general community quarantine, this concern has been resolved, said Peralta.

“It’s now a GCQ and therefore, the courts are operating. We have now to apply the rule that the testimony of the witness should now be taken on site. Kasi the judge is already there. But that will not prevent the judge from conducting a video conferencing because that is still within the circular that i issued,” he added.

Peralta said the Supreme Court may release the rules on video conferencing before the end of this year.

“We also do not want to go on with video conferencing and then we will be sacrificing justice. There might be miscarriage of justice especially in criminal cases. But as I said, in those cases where video conferencing does not cover testimony like plea bargaining, plea of guilty, promulgation of judgement, reduction of bail bond, no problem because there is no testimony being taken,” he said.

Peralta also admitted that the pandemic has somehow affected the speedy resolution of cases.

“A little bit, a little bit, but those cases that should have been heard in a regular case, during pandemic it was not done. But I am happy also that in spite of the pandemic, there were many matters that were taken up, like the release of PDLs. And also there were promulgations of judgement that were done. We were not zero in accomplishment,” he said. — BM, GMA News