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April 30, 2014

Judge Sees Anti-Corruption and Access to Justice Gains via Judicial Reform

April 2014

“Ours is the first automated trial court in the Philippines,” Judge Maria Filomena Singh of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court notes with pride, “and with this pilot, the Philippine judiciary has taken a big step toward keeping local trial court systems in step with international standards.” Judge Singh has been instrumental in championing the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) eCourt program in the Philippines, and she has seen firsthand the improvements that automation can bring not just to the courts, but to the broader population as well.

According to Judge Singh, eCourt has, since its May 2013 rollout, “converted virtually all the basic court functions” by automating previously manual, time-consuming tasks that fell to administrative staff and contributed to case backlog.  Now, judges and courts are assigned cases automatically, and the system is constantly updated to reflect new motions, hearings or decisions.  This information can be accessed in real-time by judges and by court administrators, allowing them to assess the workload and performance of each court.  It is in this sense that eCourt has the promise “to be an effective court, not just case, management system,” says Judge Singh, as administrators and supervising judges can use the data to allocate limited resources to overloaded courts and to improve underperforming ones.   

While the immediate outcome of eCourt is the automation of individual court functions, the resulting increased accountability and speedier case processing will be a boon to the public. It will improve access to justice for a huge swath of the population, especially the poor, who often cannot afford the time or financial investment previously necessary to engage with formal justice mechanisms. Moreover, features that allow the public to easily obtain information about case status provide citizens with a powerful tool to hold lawyers and courts accountable. These, in turn, help the Philippine judiciary as it seeks to improve citizens’ confidence in the judicial system.

In February 2014, Judge Singh was part of an ABA ROLI study tour to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where a high-level delegation of Philippine jurists toured the country’s recently automated courts. There, the group met with top representatives from the judiciary, who shared their experiences with the automation process and their observations of court operations since automation. Judge Singh credits the trip with revealing the wider potential of the eCourt, which she stresses will serve “most importantly as an access to justice tool that will ensure transparency and accountability, optimum court efficiency through regular performance monitoring and assessment, and eliminate all opportunities for corrupt practices.” 

Given the effectiveness of the Quezon City program—and prior successful automation programs for the Court of Appeals and the Court of Tax Appeals—ABA ROLI will help introduce eCourt to select trial courts before supporting a nationwide rollout. Additionally, and at the request of the Philippine chief justice and its court administrator, ABA ROLI will support the reconstruction and enhancement of the court in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban, bringing eCourt to an area that could greatly benefit from both its immediate and long-term effects. 

To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].