Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin and the Justice Sector Coordinating Council have launched the Justice Zone project in Angeles City in Pampanga, which is a key program to speed up the resolution of cases in courts.
The launching of the Justice Zone project last Thursday, April 12, in Luzon was the fourth venue in the country and first in Luzon. The first three were launched in Quezon City in 2014, in Cebu City last year and in Davao City just last month.
In his speech, Bersamin stressed that the opening of the fourth Justice Zone venue means that “vital justice’’ services will henceforth be rendered more effective by bringing together the coordinative capabilities of each agency of justice for the benefit of the public.”
“The Justice Zone is an area where local justice sector agencies such as the police, prosecutors, judges, public attorneys, and managers of detentions facilities identify problems and arrive at common solutions to address them,” the chief magistrate said.
The Justice Zone is a permanent meeting, advisory and decision-making structure that involves the most senior justice officials in a local area.
It is composed of the trial courts, the prosecution service of the Department of Justice, Public Attorney’s Office, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, provincial jails, barangay justice system, and the Parole and Probation Administration.
Backed by the Justice Sector Reform Programme Governance in Justice under a financial grant by the European Union, the program aims to enhance the full cooperation among workers in the criminal justice system for swift and fair administration of justice.
Besides expediting resolution of cases filed in courts, the project also hopes to decongest jails and implement other services like drug testing in coordination with concerned government agencies.
Under the program, local justice sector agencies such as the police, prosecutors, judges, public attorneys, and managers of detention facilities “identify problems and arrive at common solutions to address them.”
Bersamin also recognized the success of programs under the JSCC program, citing as examples continuous trial and automation such as the e-court system, electronic subpoena, and the e-dalaw or electronic visitation program.
He revealed that the introduction of a continuous trial system and plea bargaining for drugs cases in Quezon City resulted in the reduction of up to 70,000 pending civil and criminal cases, from 640,000 as of December 2017 to 570,000 as of December 2016.
He said the JSCC agencies are working on a sectoral budget for joint projects between the high court, the DOJ and DILG. He vowed to launch more justice zones before he retires in October.
“In the coming months, we will look at rural or provincial areas. Because most of these justice zones so far, all four are in densely populated areas and they are in the urban setting. I am hoping that the principals will also consider launching and establishing justice zones in the provincial scale,” he suggested.
For his part, Guevarra said members of the justice sector should “gain insights into the operational and logistical challenges” each of them face.
“These insights become the basis for us to address gaps and weaknesses in our respective systems, which in turn embolden us to further strengthen our bonds of cooperation and collaboration,” he said.