PH to hold first trial by videoconferencing

By: Dona Z. Pazzibugan - Philippine Daily Inquirer September 02,2019 - 10:47 AM

MANILA, Philippines — It’s a first in the Philippine judicial system.

Two inmates will be tried on Sept. 2 without leaving jail, thanks to videoconferencing technology.

One is facing frustrated murder charges since 2013 while another is an alleged New People’s Army guerrilla charged with multiple attempted murder for an ambush in 2014.

They will be tried before Davao City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Executive Judge Emmanuel Carpio while they remain at the Davao City District Jail.

Two-year pilot test

The courtroom and a designated hearing room in the jail were fitted with closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitors, speakers and high-definition cameras that are linked through radio towers put up in the Davao Hall of Justice and the Davao City Jail.

For the next two years, the pilot testing period, Judge Carpio and later two other judges on the Davao RTC will try via videoconference inmates who are considered high-security risks and who have been diagnosed with serious or contagious diseases.

If the pilot run proves successful, high-risk inmates as well as national penitentiary prisoners who are tried for new offenses will no longer be transported from jail to attend court hearings.

They will instead attend trial from the hearing room of the jail where they will see and hear the judge, lawyers and witnesses through a TV monitor.

In turn those who are in court will see and hear the inmate in the jail through TV monitors installed in the courtroom.

The Supreme Court has also allowed objects and documents for evidence to be presented remotely through videoconferencing.

For the past months, Davao City judges, prosecutors, lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office and jail wardens from the Davao City District Jail have undergone training after the Supreme Court issued guidelines on the use of videoconferencing technology for trials.

High-value targets

Under the guidelines, those who will undergo trial by videoconferencing are inmates considered “high-value targets,” such as the following:

Suspected members of terrorist groups and organized crime syndicates;

Inmates accused of terrorism-related offenses and crimes against humanity such as war crimes and genocide; and

Inmates who are seriously ill or diagnosed with a highly contagious disease.

Those serving sentences in national penitentiaries will also have to appear in court through videoconferencing, with regards to other pending cases or procedures, since they cannot be taken out of prison.

The Supreme Court has allowed other inmates, regardless of the crime they are charged with, to volunteer for trial by videoconference.

Reducing risks

The videoconferencing procedure will reduce if not eliminate the “serious” risks to the safety and lives not only of the accused and those charged with transporting them between the jail and court, but also of judges, court officers and personnel and the general public, the Supreme Court said.

Videoconferencing will also cut transportation costs and travel time in court proceedings.

The program can be rolled out nationwide even before the two-year pilot-testing in Davao City is over, according to Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, who headed the special committee that drafted the guidelines.

“This procedure is a breakthrough in trials in criminal cases and [is] trailblazing because it can later on be applied in civil cases and benefit our thousands of overseas foreign workers in foreign countries who need not go back home to physically testify in our courts but instead appear remotely from our embassies and consulates,” Peralta said.

He said the Supreme Court reconciled the constitutional requirement of giving inmates the right to meet the witnesses “face to face” with the advance in technology.

Face-to-face confrontation

United States jurisprudence does not require face-to-face confrontation of the witness in the same room and has considered remote testimony of a witness via CCTV, said Court Administrator Midas Marquez.

The other two courtrooms in Davao City will eventually be equipped with TV monitors and cameras for videoconference, according to the Supreme Court.

The pilot testing will also link the Davao City Hall of Justice to the Special Intensive Care Area in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, and to New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.

The Supreme Court previously allowed using live-link television testimony in criminal cases in which the witness or the victim was a child.

In 2001, the Supreme Court gave family courts the green light to use videoconferencing equipment in trials involving the testimony of children.

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