Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta and the other ASEAN Chief Justices on Thursday signed a declaration further uniting and strengthening the coordination and close relations of its member countries, as well as ensuring knowledge-sharing to best equip the judiciary-members in handling cases of international interest especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the first ever online and 8th Meeting of the Council of ASEAN Chief Justices (CACJ), the top magistrates of the ASEAN region signed the Hanoi Declaration. This year’s CACJ meeting was hosted by the Judiciary of Vietnam.
Under the Declaration, the CACJ agreed, among others, “for Malaysia and the CACJ Secretariat in collaboration with the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law to conduct the Masterclass for ASEAN judges and judicial officers on The Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters, and The Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters.”
The Declaration also stated “the agreement for the Working Group on Facilitating Service of Civil Processes within ASEAN to study the current legal framework within each ASEAN jurisdiction governing the taking of evidence for foreign proceedings and on the basis of such study, to develop a Model Rule and thereafter submit a report of their findings and recommendations of the said Model Rule at the next CACJ Meeting for consideration by each ASEAN Judiciary.”
This development complements the approval of the Philippine Supreme Court last September of the Guidelines on the Implementation in the Philippines of the Hague Service Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters, which will address court delays and simplify the serving of summons and other documents in a foreign jurisdiction. The Guidelines shall govern the operation and implementation of the Hague Service Convention in the country, insofar as they concern judicial documents in civil or commercial matters.
Furthermore, the Declaration stated “the agreement for the Working Group on Judicial Education and Training to identify new ways of conducting training and education programmes.”
The CACJ acknowledged that “the Working Group on Cross-Border Disputes Involving Children has (a) began to explore the possibility of developing a common set of values, aspirations and principles for ASEAN Judiciaries in cases of cross-border child disputes within ASEAN; and (b) agreed to explore holding the 3rd ASEAN Family Judges Forum in conjunction with the 2022 HCCH Judicial Roundtable on the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and the 1996 Hague Convention on Parental Responsibility and Protection of Children.”
Aside from Chief Justice Peralta, the other signatories were Chief Justice Steven Chong Wan Oon of Brunei Darussalam, Vice President You Ottara as representative of the President of the Supreme Court of Kingdom of Cambodia, Chief Justice Muhammad Syarifuddin of Indonesia, Vice President Bounkhouang Thavisack as representative of the President of the People’s Supreme Court of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat of Malaysia, Chief Justice Htun Htun Oo of Myanmar, Judge Lee Seiu Kin as representative of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Singapore, Metinee Chalodhorn as President of the Supreme Court of Thailand, and Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh of Vietnam.
The Chief Justices also shared how their respective judiciaries handled court operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. They all acknowledged the serious impact of the pandemic on the economy and society of most ASEAN Member States, which put the judiciary of each country under pressure to resolve a large number of cases, while still being required to ensure the conduct of prompt, convenient, and safe trial to minimize the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus.
All were in agreement for each ASEAN Judiciary to consider sharing their respective crisis management experiences in response to COVID-19 on the ASEAN Judiciaries Portal (AJP).
In his message, Chief Justice Peralta reaffirmed the Philippine Judiciary’s commitment to advance the Rule of Law in the ASEAN region. He said: “I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the Judiciary of Vietnam for hosting this meeting inspite of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global health emergency we are currently experiencing. We are gathered here today to continue our sworn obligation to unite and strengthen our judicial cooperation to advance the Rule of Law in the ASEAN region. Thanks to the latest technology, it has made us realize that physical distance is not a hindrance for all of us to be together and share important milestones in our jurisdiction.”
Chief Justice Peralta also shared an update on his Ten-Point Program for the Judiciary which focuses on four core areas – efficiency, integrity, service, and security, and how the Philippine Judiciary performed its mandate despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
He talked of how the Judiciary ensured the safety of the court employees and stakeholders during the initial lockdown by issuing various circulars physically closing the courts, suspending the hearing of cases, extending prescriptive period for the filing of pleadings, and establishing hotlines for the different concerns of the public, like the Judiciary Public Assistance Section, or Chief Justice Help Desk.
He said that he had personally monitored the courts, from the Supreme Court, down to the first-level courts daily, and did not allow the pandemic to hamper judicial operations, making sure that the wheels of justice will continue moving without sacrificing the health and welfare of the court employees and the public.
He also talked about the Court issuance providing for the online filing of Complaint or Criminal Information and Posting of Bail. The circular was issued to further limit the physical movement of court users, judges and personnel during this period of public health emergency.
Furthermore, he shared that to ensure the right of the persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) of their right to bail, the Court issued a circular providing for the reduction of bail and granting recognizance for indigent PDLs. This issuance also addressed the need to further decongest overcrowded jails and detention facilities to further prevent the spread of COVID-19, thereby also promoting social and restorative justice.
He also mentioned the circular providing for the Pilot Testing of Hearings of Criminal Cases through Video Conferencing. The Court provided the pilot courts with Judiciary 365 accounts with email and videoconferencing applications. Videoconferencing hearing was later expanded to all matters pending in courts, both civil and criminal. As a result, 81,888 PDLs were released from March 17 until October 16, 2020; out of which number, 46,032 PDLs were released through videoconference. From May 4 until October 16, 2020, 110,369 videoconference hearings were conducted, and the success rate of such hearings was 88%.
Chief Justice Peralta also talked on Administrative Resolutions revising certain provisions of the rules on Civil Procedure, on Evidence, and on interim rules on Remote Notarization of Documents, respectively, by incorporating technology and reducing physical or face to face interactions. Specifically, the amended rules on civil procedure, include online filing and service of pleadings, notices, summons, subpoena and orders. We have likewise institutionalized in our rules of procedure the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (or Service Convention), and the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (or Apostille Convention), and issued guidelines for their smooth application.
Chief Justice Peralta was joined in the 8th CACJ Meeting by Senior Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, Co-Chairperson of the CACJ Working Group on Cross-Border Disputes Involving Children, and Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) Chancellor (Ret. SC Justice) Adolfo A. Azcuna, Co-chairperson of CACJ Working Group on Judicial Education and Training. Also present were Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez and SC Spokesperson and Chief of Public Information Office, Atty. Brian Keith F. Hosaka.
Aside from the Philippines, the other ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The 9th CACJ Meeting will be hosted next year by the Judiciary of Indonesia.
The Declaration may be viewed at https://cacj-ajp.org/web/guest/declarations.