Rule on videoconferencing in taking testimony

The Supreme Court has approved the guidelines on the use of videoconferencing technology to allow the remote appearance and testimonies of those facing charges and detained in jail. The guidelines, which will take effect this September 1, will be tested in Davao.

In a resolution issued on June 25, 2019, the Court En Banc approved A.M. No. 19-05-05 or the proposed Guidelines on the Use of Videoconferencing Technology for the Remote Appearance or Testimony of Certain Persons Deprived of Liberty in Jails and National Penitentiaries. Drafted by a Special Committee chaired by Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, theGuidelines aim to guarantee and preserve the constitutional rights of the accused in court proceedings who are persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) being detained in a district, city or provincial jail or a national inmate committed in a national penitentiary.

The Court is utilizing videoconferencing technology for inmates to eliminate the safety, security and health risks posed by the personal appearance of PDLs who are “considered to be high-risk or afflicted with highly contagious diseases.” Such risk is not only posed on the accused but also to judges, court personnel, and the public in general. This will also guarantee the accused’s rights to be present and confront witnesses against them and to ensure the continuity of proceedings in criminal cases.

The Court has been “employing modern technology, e.g., using live-link television testimony in criminal cases where the witness or the victim is a child and the presentation of testimonial evidence through electronic means in both civil and criminal cases.” In 2001, the Court gave the family courts the green light to use video-conferencing equipment in trials involving the testimonies of children.The Guidelines provide that “the remote appearance and testimony of an accused in a videoconference proceeding shall closely resemble his or her otherwise in-person courtroom testimony and experience.” Further, “the dignity and solemnity in a videoconference proceeding shall be the same as those of an in-court proceeding. The remote location shall be viewed as an extension of the courtroom.”

The Guidelines also detail the procedures to be observed allowing the defense counsel to be physically present with the PDLs at the jail or in court at the PDLs’ option. Furthermore, the Guidelines also state that the video cameras must be placed and positioned in such a way so as to cover the same image the PDLs at the remote location would see if he or she were physically present in the courtroom. The trial court, however, may exercise its discretion to suspend the videoconference proceeding when there are technical issues which would affect its fairness or if matters should arise warranting the PDLs’ physical appearance in the courtroom.

Accordingly, the Guidelines shall be tested for a period of not more than two years between the following – the Davao City Hall of Justice and the Davao City Jail; the Davao City Hall of Justice and the Special Intensive Care Area (SICA), Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan; and the Davao City Hall of Justice and the New Bilibid Prison, Muntinlupa City.

SOURCE: SC Approves Videoconferencing Technology Guidelines for Inmates. August 6, 2019.