Service of pleadings via email address

The system of service of government-bound or inter-party pleadings and other papers in the Philippines is one of the reasons for the delay in the progress of cases. A simple motion for reconsideration may take half a year because the rules on service via registered mail and service in person are prone to abuse.

Before moving further, it is important to define what "service of pleadings" means. Service, in this context, means the furnishing of a copy to a party or to a court or tribunal.

A proposal has been raised that the system be made flexible to allow parties and their counsels, including courts, tribunals, commissions and other bodies, to use email addresses and other electronic means to serve pleadings and other documents among each other. This cannot be more complicated than promulgating a rule that requires lawyers to maintain official and permanent email addresses and that parties submit email addresses into the records to which all papers may be sent.

Parties are given a period of time (normally, 10 or 15 days) to respond or comment to an order, complaint or petition. This period is counted not from the sending or issuance of the order, etc. but from the receipt of the party of his copy of the document. Therefore, even if the order[, etc.] has been promulgated on January 1, for example, if the party receives his copy on July 15, the 15-day period would still be counted from July 15. This has caused and still causes the enormous amount of delay and inefficiency in the system, not to mention the confusion that it has spawned over the years.

A system that takes advantage of technology promotes efficiency. If email addresses are used to serve papers, more cases can be resolved in a shorter period of time. This will also raise the public's respect and trust for the legal system. It will help erase the people's notion that legal processes are too slow and too expensive, resulting in many attempts to put the law into their own hands.

Aside from speed and efficiency, this proposed system also promotes transparency. It is an open secret that -- and there are reports of -- parties or their counsels colluding with the postmaster or any person serving the pleadings or other papers to delay the date of receipt so they can have more time to prepare their responses, answers or comments. This is not a healthy system as it promotes "palakasan."

If pleadings and other documents are sent via email, the outbox or "carbon copy" (cc) indication on the email sent itself is enough proof that the other parties have received the papers. And since email addresses have to be reflected on record, it is not going to be easy for anyone to deny receipt thereof.

In fact, this does not strictly require a promulgation of a new rule or an amendment of the existing rules. Parties and their counsels may agree via pleadings or during a pre-trial conference, for example, that services can be made through email addresses on record and consent that such would be given the same legal effect under existing rules.