The Supreme Court has allowed courts to receive complaints and posting of bail during the period of public health emergency arising from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta on Tuesday issued Administrative Circular No. 33-2020 allowing online filing of complaints before the first and second level courts and posting of bail purportedly to reduce the “necessity of the judge and court staff to physically travel to their stations.”
AC No. 33-2020, which is addressed to all litigants, judges and personnel of the first and second level courts, and members of the Bar, mandates implementation of online filing of complaint or information and posting of bail due to the rising cases of COVID-19 infection.
“Criminal complaints and information, together with other supporting documents, may be filed through electronic transmission or email before the proper first and second level court. Once the complaint or information is received by the court, the Clerk of Court shall refer the same to the judge on duty who shall personally evaluate the complaint or the resolution of the prosecutor, and its supporting evidence,” the circular stated.
Within three days, the judge on duty must evaluate the filings and decide to either immediately dismiss the case or issue a warrant of arrest or a commitment order. The judge may also order the prosecutor to electronically submit additional evidence, the circular added.
If a judge decides an accused should be granted bail, the circular mandates that the requirements for bail may also be electronically transmitted to the court to be examined by the judge, who would approve it and order the provisional release if the requirements are complete.
The SC issuance said that the judge may reduce the amount of bail upon a motion of the accused and comment of the prosecution.
For strict compliance, Peralta ordered the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to issue the necessary guidelines in three days to ensure the speedy implementation of the administrative circular and “identify and inform the respective courts of the available accredited sureties which may, whenever necessary, promptly issue the appropriate bail bonds during this public health emergency period.”
“Unless otherwise directed, this procedure shall be in effect only during this duration of public health emergency declared by the President in accordance with existing law,” the circular said.
The circular also requires that the approval of the bail and the release order will also be electronically transmitted to the law enforcement authority or detention facility that has custody of the accused.
“The electronically transmitted approval of the bail and release order by the Executive Judge shall be sufficient to cause the release of the accused,” the circular stated.
The SC said that executive judges should submit to the OCA a weekly report of all pertinent information on their court’s activities pursuant to the new circular, and the OCA will submit a regular report or recommendations to the SC en banc for monitoring and revisions if necessary.
Last March 23, the high court ordered the physical closure of all courts nationwide, an arrangement in which judges and their staff would only go to their respective courts to act on urgent matters.