Dispute Resolution, Litigation, Arbitration

Supreme Court Releases Guidelines on the Conduct of Videoconferencing

On 01 December 2020, the Supreme Court issued Administrative Memorandum (AM) No. 20-12-01 SC to establish the guidelines on the conduct of videoconferencing to address the restricted movement and travel of court users during the pandemic. AM No. 20-12-01 SC took effect on 16 January 2021 and it will remain effective even after the pandemic, unless revoked by the Supreme Court.

Videoconferencing is defined as court hearings and proceedings, including the taking of testimony, conducted through videoconferencing technology, or the use of video, audio, and data transmission devices to allow participants in different physical locations to simultaneously communicate by seeing and hearing each other. It can either be done fully remote when none of the participants is physically present in court or partially remote as when at least one of the participants appears physically in court while the others appear from remote locations.

The guidelines in AM 20-12-01 SC will govern the conduct of videoconferencing before the first and second level courts, Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, and Court of Tax Appeals. It will apply to all actions and proceedings, including small claims cases, in whatever stage when the court finds that the conduct of videoconferencing will be beneficial to the fair, speedy, and efficient administration of justice such as in the following instances:

  1. Acts of God, such as typhoons, floods, earthquakes, or other unforeseen events, and human-induced events, such as fires, strikes, lockdowns, those which limit physical access to the courts, and other instances posing threats to the security and safety of the courts and/or personnel;
  2. Periods of public emergencies officially declared by the concerned agency of the government;
  3. The inability or difficulty of a litigant, witness or counsel to physically appear in court due to security risks in his or her transport in going to and from the court, real and apparent danger to his or her life, security or safety, serious health concerns, vulnerability of the witness due to age, physical condition, disability, or the fact that he or she is a victim of a sexual offense or domestic violence;
  4. When the litigant or witness is a high-risk PDL;
  5. When the litigant or witness is a PDL committed in a detention facility, or a Child in Conflict with the law (CICL) committed in a center or facility operated or accredited by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD);
  6. When the presence of a government agency witness or an expert witness is required but for justifiable grounds, he or she cannot attend an in-court hearings;
  7. When a litigant or witness is an Overseas Filipino Worker or Filipino residing abroad or temporarily outside the Philippines;
  8. When a litigant or witness is a non-resident foreign national who, while in the Philippines, was involved in any action pending before any court, and would like to appear and/or testify remotely from overseas;
  9. When, based on the sound judgment of the court, there are compelling reasons that justify the resort to videoconferencing; and

Such other circumstances or grounds that may hereafter be declared by the Supreme Court as sufficient to justify the conduct of videoconferencing.

How to request for a videoconference hearing

The court may order motu proprio the conduct of a videoconference hearing in the instances enumerated as (i), (ii), (iv), (v), and (x) above.

Meanwhile, a party or counsel may request that the proceedings be conducted via videoconferencing by way of a motion which shall be filed electronically and/or personally with the court while furnishing a copy on the adverse litigant by the same means at least ten (10) calendar days before the scheduled hearing dates. The motion to conduct videoconferencing must include the following:

  1. the grounds invoked by the movant;
  2. documentary and object evidence to support the grounds being invoked;
  3. the proceedings proposed to be conducted through videoconferencing;
  4. the names of the witnesses to be presented and the summaries of their testimonies;
  5. the expected location of each participant;
  6. the e-mail addresses of the concerned litigants, their counsel, and the witnesses to be presented;
  7. special requirements necessary for the specific videoconferencing, if any, such as specialized software for the presentation of videos, and the like; and

statement that the movant and the intended witnesses are technically ready to participate in the videoconferencing.

The adverse litigant shall file, electronically and/or personally, its comment or opposition to the motion within five (5) calendar days from receipt of the motion. With or without the comment of the adverse litigant, the court shall resolve the motion within five (5) calendar days before the scheduled videoconferencing by issuing an order that will be served electronically containing the following matters:

  1. the date and time of the videoconferencing;
  2. the proceedings covered;
  3. the names of the witnesses and the nature of their testimonies;
  4. the expected location of each participant;
  5. the software or platform to be used for the videoconferencing;
  6. the e-mail addresses of the participants as reflected in court records and to be used for the purpose of the videoconferencing, with notice that said e-mail addresses are deemed valid unless the concerned participants inform the court of any changes thereto at least three (3) calendar days before the scheduled videoconferencing hearing; and

such other matters as may be necessary to define the parameters of the videoconferencing.

In cases involving high-risk PDL’s alleged to be high value targets and those with serious health conditions, the motion to conduct videoconferencing may be filed by the jail warden of the jail or detention facility where the concerned PDLs are detained or held. When the videoconferencing is intended to allow an accused PDL to testify or attend the proceedings, the motion may be granted ex parte by the court.

For videoconferencing involving Overseas Filipino Workers, Filipinos Residing Abroad or temporarily outside the Philippines, and Non-resident foreign nationals who would like to participate or testify through videoconferencing, the litigant interested to avail him/herself of videoconferencing may do so upon motion with the court where the case is pending. The motion shall contain the same matters enumerated above with the additional requirement that the concerned Philippine embassy or consulate has allowed the use of its facilities for videoconferencing since it may only be conducted inside an embassy or consulate of the Philippines.

Facilities, equipment, and training required for videoconferencing

The Supreme Court has not provided the minimum specifications of the facilities and equipment needed to conduct videoconferencing. It is enough that the technology, facilities, and equipment to be used must be of such quality to allow the conduct of videoconferencing and allow the participants to clearly observe the demeanor, non-verbal communications, and facial expressions of the other participants, and see and hear what is taking place in the courtroom and remote locations.

To support videoconferencing, courtrooms shall be equipped with laptops and/or computers, video cameras, microphones, speakers, high-definition monitors, printer-scanners, and other facilities needed for documentary and object evidence, sufficient in specifications, size, number, and placement.

Click here to read the full text of AM No. 20-12-01 SC.

Disclaimer: The information in this website is provided for general informational purposes only. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Platon Martinez or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances.