Since the inception of the Internet, the most advanced jurisdictions have found ways to enable submissions in court proceedings to be made by electronic means. Macau's judicial environment has been always reluctant to use electronic means due to both a fear of security breaches and the conservativism of some legal players.
With the enactment of the e-government law (Law 2/2020), which was an attempt to benefit the region by making it a "smart city", the requests made by some judicial players have been heard.
The Macau Legislative Assembly is currently analysing a proposal to enact a new law concerning the submission of procedural documents and the payment of costs by electronic means through an electronic platform. This law is intended to apply to labour, civil and administrative court proceedings and, in some circumstances and subject to compliance with its procedural principles, to criminal proceedings.
Under the draft law, the use of the platform is optional for both the parties and their lawyers, and the platform must have features that make it possible to confirm the authenticity of communications and the date and time of the performance of any acts. To that end, the draft law provides that platform users must use an electronic identification method to ensure their authenticity.
The platform must always be available, and any ordinary maintenance service shall be communicated at least two days in advance on the platform's homepage. If the use of the platform is suspended due to an unexpected urgent maintenance service, the term of the procedural time limit will be postponed to the following business day.
According to the proposed law, any procedural documents sent through the platform should include their annexes. Their successful submission exempts the parties and their lawyers from submitting hard copies – procedural documents that have been scanned and sent through the platform have the same evidentiary value as the original documents. However, the original documents must be presented whenever directed to do so by the judge – namely, when:
- there are concerns about their authenticity;
- the opposing party requests their presentation; or
- there is the need to carry out expert evidence on the handwriting or signature therein.
In regard to time limits, the draft law proposes that procedural documents may be sent at any time within the respective time limit. The documents are deemed to have been successfully sent after an automatic confirmation message has been generated.
When a procedural document is sent through the platform, court staff shall print a copy for the physical file of the case, as well as the necessary copies to notify the relevant parties. There is also a need to save a soft copy of the documents in a different electronic location in order to prevent loss or damage.
Finally, the draft law provides that interested parties may pay court fees through the platform or any other electronic means – their payment may be made at any time within the respective time limit. An electronic message confirming the payment should also be generated to confirm its success.
This proposal is of great value. Not only will it benefit the work of Macau lawyers, but it is also a big step towards a more environmentally friendly future.
Although Macau is a very small region, and the courts are easily accessible by all legal practitioners, whose offices are often within a walking distance of the courts, the chance to access all case documents virtually is an improvement that has long been requested – especially by those who were accustomed to using such electronic means in other jurisdictions.
Currently, when lawyers need to access the documents of a court case, they need to request that the files be brought to their office for a few days, and they need to pay the respective fee. If the files happen to be with the judge or the opposing party, they will not be accessible until they become available again. Additionally, the files often include heavy volumes, and carrying them to the office requires a large suitcase and physical effort.
There is still a long way to go to achieve success in this area, including a potential shift to a mandatory use of the electronic platform for the delivery of procedural documents or even a shift to remote court hearings. Nevertheless, bearing in mind that professionals will need time to adjust to these changes and that relevant training must be implemented and made available by the relevant authorities, this greener future is something to look forward to, and the reduction of unnecessary paperwork that fills the shelves of offices and courts is a welcome development.
For further information on this topic please contact Marta Mourão at Rato, Ling, Lei & Cortés Advogados by telephone (+853 2856 2322) or email ([email protected]). The Rato, Ling, Lei & Cortés Advogados website can be accessed at www.lektou.com.