The Supreme Court (SC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued SC Administrative Circular No. 33-2020 ("Online filing of Complaint or Information and Posting of Bail…") and DOJ Office Order dated 27 March 2020 ("…Procedures for the Conduct of Electronic/Online Inquest Proceeding in the National Capital Region…"), respectively.
The SC and DOJ rules affect the processing of individuals arrested without a warrant, and criminal cases, in general, for the duration of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19. This reinforces the fact that the enforcement of criminal laws continue amidst COVID-19, and companies have modified remedies in the event of an arrest involving any of its officers / employees.
The DOJ Office Order on Electronic Inquest Proceeding (E-Inquest) took effect on 27 March 2020, and applies to Prosecutor's Offices in the National Capital Region (NCR). E-Inquest is optional, and may be availed of by NCR City Prosecutors after such City Prosecutor comes up with its own specific guidelines consistent with the DOJ Office Order.
The SC Administrative Circular on Online Filing of Criminal Charges and Posting of Bail takes effect upon the issuance of guidelines by the Office of the Court Administrator.
Both issuances will remain effective for the duration of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19.
Inquest is the procedure to determine whether an individual arrested without a warrant will be released on account of a dismissal of charges, released for further preliminary investigation proceedings, or charged in court. Under the DOJ Office Order, E-Inquest -- defined as a virtual conduct of inquest using any online platform -- may be conducted by participating Prosecutor's Offices as follows:
1. Law Enforcement Agency (LEA) who apprehended the respondent will process and send scanned documents (i.e., affidavit of arrest, investigation data sheet, etc.) to the email address of the Prosecutor's Office for E-Inquest.
2. The Prosecutor's office will internally assign an inquest prosecutor that will handle such E-Inquest. A point person in the Prosecutor's office will coordinate with respondent's counsel (public or private) and shall forward documents to both the inquest prosecutor and counsel via e-mail.
3. The point person will initiate the video conference call between the LEA, private complainant (if any), inquest prosecutor, and respondent's counsel.
4. The inquest prosecutor can administer oath remotely, but personal oath-taking should be done after the public emergency. If not possible, oath taken by an authorized LEA will suffice.
5. If respondent avails of the right to a preliminary investigation, the LEA will facilitate execution of waiver of Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, and send a scanned copy to the inquest prosecutor via e-mail.
6. Internal approvals of the inquest resolution will be done electronically to the Inquest Chief, and then to the City Prosecutor. Electronic/scanned signatures by the approving officers are recognized.
7. If the resolution is for a dismissal, a release order will be sent via email to the LEA, the respondent, and his counsel.
8. If the resolution is for the respondent to be released for further investigation, the inquest prosecutor shall conduct the preliminary investigation, but inform the parties, via email, that preliminary investigation is suspended during the public health emergency.
9. If the resolution is for filing of a criminal case in court, the inquest resolution and Information (formal charge) shall be filed in court, whether physically or via e-mail (see discussion below).
Under the SC Circular, criminal complaints and Informations may be filed with trial courts, through email. The procedure envisioned is as follows:
1. Once a criminal complaint / Information is received by the court through email, the case will be referred to a Judge on duty.
2. The Judge on duty may act on the case, as it does with regular criminal cases, and thereby issue the necessary warrants of arrests, commitment orders, bail approvals and release orders.
3. Bail requirements can be submitted to the court electronically, and the Judge on duty may act on the same, as before.
4. Approvals of bail and release orders shall be electronically transmitted by the Judge on duty to the Executive Judge, who in turn, shall electronically transmit the same to the proper LEA or detention facility. The electronically transmitted orders shall be sufficient to cause the release of the accused. Important Note: We will update this section as necessary, once the Office of the Court Administrator issues more specific guidelines. The guidelines will cover templates and list of documents that can be practically produced under the circumstances. It may also cover issues such as whether and how Judges on duty can issue Orders / Resolutions electronically, and if so, how electronically issued Orders / Resolutions can be enforced.