SC eyes video con for highrisk/sick inmates, witnesses

MANILA Highrisk prisoners and those seriously ill will be allowed to appear and/or testify before courts through videoconferencing technology under a pilot project to be tested in Davao starting next month, the Supreme Court (SC) said Tuesday.

In a statement, the High Court said it has approved the proposed Guidelines on the Use of Videoconferencing Technology for the Remote Appearance or Testimony of Certain Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) in Jails and National Penitentiaries.

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.

A special committee chaired by Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta drafted the guidelines which aim to guarantee and preserve the constitutional rights of the accused in court proceedings who are PDLs being detained in a district, city or provincial jail or a national inmate committed in a national penitentiary.

The Court said the videoconferencing technology eliminates the safety, security and health risks posed by the personal appearance of PDLs who is considered to be highrisk 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.

The Court has been employing modern technology, e.g., using livelink 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 videoconferencing 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 inperson courtroom testimony and experience.

It also said the dignity and solemnity in a videoconference proceeding shall be the same as those of an incourt 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.

The guidelines 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 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. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency