- Improving Case Management Systems
- Promoting Consistent and Efficient Case Adjudication
- Strengthening the Department of Justice
Criminal Law Reform and Anti-Human Trafficking
Criminal Law Reform and Anti-Human Trafficking
Supporting small claims courts
Small claims courts enable an expedited, fair and affordable resolution of everyday disputes by using template pleadings and court orders, encouraging judicially supervised settlement negotiations and streamlining procedures. The courts expand access to justice and help decongest the country's overloaded courts.
The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has worked with the Supreme Court and the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) to train more than 3,000 judges and clerks nationwide on the rules and procedures for adjudicating small claims under the new small claims court system.
ABA ROLI and the Supreme Court have implemented the small claims case monitoring system (SC2MS), a computer system used to track small claims cases, in all 1,137 trial courts across the nation. This represents the first nationwide automation of the Philippines trial courts. It enables courts to immediately connect with the central administrative office in Manila for updates and circulars, and to generate and send automatic reports Supreme Court. ABA ROLI continues to assist with SC2MS trainings and public outreach regarding the use of small claims courts.
Implementing case management information systems in appeals courts
Building on the previous court automation initiative, ABA ROLI reconfigured the court management information system (CMIS) program in the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft courts), the Court of Tax Appeals and the Court of Appeals to improve the software's functionality, operability and efficiency. The enhancements will increase the pace of litigation and enable monitoring of judges and court personnel. The CMIS is now fully operational in each court, and ABA ROLI is training judges and court personnel on its use.
Reducing court delays
ABA ROLI and key judicial sector stakeholders have drafted revised court rules for pilot implementation in Quezon City, the nation's largest trial court system. The rules introduce modern litigation streamlining techniques to reduce the number of adjournments, decrease spurious motions, remove backlogs and improve the overall efficacy of the trial courts.
To implement the rules, ABA ROLI will develop a database of the caseload of Quezon City trial courts. The proposed design will incorporate many of the features of the CMIS at the appellate courts, including the use of cost-effective bar code technology to reduce redundant input of case information and avoid the loss of important files. The database will enable court administrators to monitor litigation and identify litigation impediments.
ABA ROLI has worked with the Supreme Court to design an auditing program that will identify obstacles to speedy case resolution in those courts with large numbers of unresolved cases. Court auditors will conduct diagnostic case-management reviews in 17 selected trial courts. Later on, customized action plans will be developed for each court, and judges and court staff will be familiarized with rules that can help hasten the pace of litigation.
Developing adjudication resources
ABA ROLI worked with partners, including PHILJA, to produce a manual—the Revised Trial Court Benchbook—for judges and lawyers. The two-volume manual, which covers different case types, will help ensure consistency in decision-making. A total of 2,500 copies were printed in 2011 and are being distributed across the country. ABA ROLI continues to provide trainings on its use. Additionally, ABA ROLI and PHILJA are finalizing sentencing guidelines, which will provide a user-friendly mechanism to calculate sentence for the most commonly charged criminal offenses.
Promoting arbitration to resolve commercial disputes
Arbitration has emerged as an important tool in resolving commercial disputes around the globe. But arbitration has been less useful in the Philippines, as courts often second-guess arbitration clauses, requiring parties to spend time and resources re-litigating disputes that were already settled in arbitration. ABA ROLI is working with the Office of Government Corporate Counsel to promote broader use of arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in business transactions involving the government. ABA ROLI is assisting the Office for Alternative Dispute Resolution (OADR) in developing standards to train and certify arbitrators. In collaboration with the Philippine Judicial Academy, the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center, Inc., and the OADR, ABA ROLI is developing a training curriculum for judges and lawyers on the Philippine Arbitration Law (RA 9285), its implementing rules and the accompanying Supreme Court circular. To encourage speedier resolution of commercial disputes and protect the sanctity of contracts, the curriculum will foster increased respect by the courts for local and international arbitral proceedings and promote broad use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in business transactions.
Capacity-building for special commercial courts
Created in 2001, special commercial courts (SCCs) handle cases concerning intellectual property, bankruptcy and matters formally under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission. However, these courts have had difficulty applying general business-related laws and resolving urgent matters—such as the issuance of temporary restraining orders—in a timely manner. To address these problems, ABA ROLI is coordinating with the judiciary to assess the courts' procedures, design capacity-building activities and, where necessary, develop practice guidelines. ABA ROLI is working with the Philippine Judicial Academy to implement new intellectual property rules that adhere to international legal norms, and will assist with training SCC judges.
Developing and implementing codes of professional conduct
In 2010, ABA ROLI developed a code of professional ethics for prosecutors, and along with other ethics codes, compiled it into a book—the Codes of Conduct for the Prosecution Service. In 2011, ABA ROLI worked on a similar code book for the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), whose lawyers serve as public defenders and provide legal aid to the indigent. The code book combines three booklets developed by ABA ROLI and PAO in 2010—the Code of Conduct for Public Attorneys and Employees of the Public Attorney's Office, the PAO Operations Manual and Consolidated PAO's Legal Forms—with international case examples as well as PAO disciplinary cases. Once the book is finalized, ABA ROLI will train PAO lawyers on it.
Operationalizing the Office for Competition
In 2011, President Aquino issued an executive order establishing an Office for Competition within the Department of Justice. The executive order represents a significant landmark in the implementation of antitrust rules in the Philippines. To be effective, the office needs to be organized, trained, and provided with the legal resources needed to investigate and prosecute anti-competitive conduct. The office also needs to prepare for prospective legislation aimed at modernizing and bolstering antitrust laws in the Philippines. ABA ROLI is assisting the office in developing an organizational structure, facilitating a study of the existing laws and procedures relating to competition enforcement and working on proposed guidelines for enforcing existing competition laws.
Building the Internal Affairs Unit's capacity
ABA ROLI is working with the Department of Justice to build the capacity of its new Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), which will enforce the code of conduct for prosecutors and support staff. ABA ROLI is developing a standard operational manual that will guide IAU staff attorneys through the investigative process for allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. To support the manual's implementation, ABA ROLI will facilitate a comprehensive training program for IAU staff attorneys on laws, policies and regulations relevant to the ethical conduct of prosecutors.
ABA ROLI will also work with IAU to develop a secured computerized system to monitor and track each investigation of prosecutorial misconduct. Finally, ABA ROLI will launch a public outreach campaign to educate citizens on how to file a complaint for alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
Combating trafficking in persons
ABA ROLI is working with the Department of Justice to promote the use of civil remedies by the justice sector and civil society to address human trafficking for sex and labor. Civil remedies, such as asset freezing, forfeiture and enforcement of monetary damages, are easier to obtain than criminal penalties. They also help provide victims with compensation and can be sought with the help of private lawyers. ABA ROLI will promote the use of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, which empowers the government to freeze assets deemed related to criminal activities. In tandem with Visayan Forum, a prominent anti-human trafficking organization, ABA ROLI will develop a handbook of laws and strategies to pursue civil remedies. A series of trainings for private lawyers and judges will be held to increase awareness and use of these tools.
By expanding the legal system's arsenal to combat human trafficking, ABA ROLI and the Department of Justice expect to increase deterrence, provide tangible redress and compensation to human-trafficking victims and increase the likelihood that human trafficking perpetrators will ultimately be criminally convicted.