Courts around the world have been moving to e-filing &, more recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic to e-hearings.
Courts in South East Asia have also been slowly adopting e-filing and in some cases virtual hearings. We survey below the status in 4 major South East Asian countries, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The Philippines and Thailand have developed or are developing good systems handling cases online. Vietnam and Indonesia have introduced limited systems for exchange of documents before hearings.
In 2013, the Philippine Supreme Court (‘the SC’) launched a pilot run of the electronic Court (eCourt) system. Its key features were to encourage speed in court processes, eliminate possible sources of corruption, and provide greater transparency. As of 2017, over 300 courts in the country have adopted the eCourt system.
The eCourt system allows the following:
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SC ordered further improvements, including allowing online video conferences to allow court litigation to continue. In criminal cases, the court has implemented a system for online filing of criminal complaints or information and for the posting of bail.
The Intellectual Property Office (IPOPHL) has also published proposed amendments to its rules of procedures to cater to online proceedings. The proposed amendments allow the online mode of filing of complaints and other pleadings or submission through the use of the IPOPHL’s electronic portal or email. The proposed amendments also allow mediation and inter-party proceedings in resolving IP disputes to be conducted online through the use of video conference.
Thailand is middle of implement a system for the full electronic handling of cases. The Court of Justice aims to fully implement the Digital Court system within 2020. Under the Thai Court of Justice’s “D-Court 2020” policy, the system will have the following services:
For the e-filing of documents, the Court of Justice implemented its 3rd version of the system in late 2019. Under the current version of the e-Filing system, a lawyer registered in the system can file a complaint without travelling to the court. Defendants can also file their replies via the system. Parties can check their cases’ status online even after office hours. The intention is that the system will be able to support filing of more types of documents including applications to amend complaints and petitions or deeds of appointment of lawyers. As of the start of June 2020, there were 164 courts countrywide utilising the e-Filing system and more than 8,000 lawyers are registered to use the system.
For IP cases, for the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court (“IPIT Court”) which has jurisdiction over all IP cases, the e-filing system is expected to be applied to cases before the IPIT Court by the end of July 2020. Moreover, under to the D-Court 2020 plan and the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, the IPIT Court has offered online mediation via video conferences as an alternative to mediation in person since 15 May 2020.
For higher courts handling IP cases, the Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases has adopted an electronic system to use internally in preparing and vetting the Court’s draft decisions. The Court also provides e-court services including online mediations via video conferences. The Supreme Court provides its own case database for the public to search. In addition, this year, the Supreme Court has started handing down its decisions via video conference for criminal cases to reduce risks, such as the risk of the detained defendants’ fleeing while being brought to court to hear a decision in court.
Vietnam has not yet moved to online court hearings. However, it is now possible for parties to file litigation documents such as petitions, evidence and other documents through Courts’ E-portal in civil and administrative cases. However, to be qualified for E-filing, litigants are required to have their electronic signatures certified. As for the Court themselves, in principle, they could also issue documents and decisions to litigants electronically, however, this is rarely seen in practice.
The establishment of E-court is one of judiciary’s current objectives as set out in Directive 01/2020/CT-CA on performing key tasks in 2020 of the Courts. However, this is expected to take some time. First, IT systems in courts must be upgraded. Second, training is required so that judges, secretaries and individuals working in the judiciary are equipped with sufficient IT knowledge in order to manage such a system effectively.
The need for E-Court is growing in Vietnam, especially after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic as almost all trials in progress were put on hold. This significant delay could have been avoided had E-Court processes been adopted earlier.
Indonesia has implemented a limited E-court system that allows, with both parties consent for pleadings to be exchanged electronically, but with the evidentiary and witness hearings still be done by the way of physical hearings. The system is not yet available for IP cases. According to the Court, this is because IP cases have tighter time limit for decisions to be rendered – for example 3 months for trademark cases and 6 months for patent cases and the E-Court system is still not well tested.
Historically, there have been significant waiting times for hearings in Indonesia. The E-court system offers to significantly reduce these times. The system has been implemented in a number of district courts around Indonesia and is only applicable for general civil, religious, military administration and state administration proceedings. The E-court regime is not fully electronic. While the case is filed electronically, the Defendant needs to give his or her consent to carry out the proceedings electronically. Without this consent, the hearing will be done in the conventional manner.
The E-court system is carried out in the following manner. An initial hearing is held with both parties in order for the court to check the formality documents. If the Defendant consents to carry out the proceedings with E-court system, the judges will set schedules for the whole trial. The exchange of the Defendant’s Reply, the Plaintiff’s Counter Pleas, and the Defendant’s Rejoinder and Conclusion brief may be done electronically. As already note, the trial hearing will be held in person so the court can hear the witnesses and see original copies of evidence.
As can be seen, the Philippines and Thailand are well advanced in the use of technology in courts with the Philippines now handling some hearings online. Vietnam and Indonesia are slow developing the technology and capabilities to handle cases online, a process that will now hopefully be handled with more urgency given the difficulties and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.