Cyber justice: Press one for legal arguments
How Guam courts embrace technology
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
When the Covid-triggered shutdown forced public services to migrate all operations online, Guam courts had to reinvent the administration of justice. Social restrictions tested the role of technology.
The virtual court was created. Cyber justice came into existence. Zoom became the courts’ default platform. Even those who struggled with technology had to learn how to unmute to state their legal arguments.
“Our march to modernization has not only transformed how we work, it’s fundamentally changed how our people engage with the court system,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Torres said in his May 1 State of the Judiciary address, which was live-streamed on the 37th Guam Legislature’s YouTube channel.
Fans of legal shows now get to watch true-to-life court drama.
“We’ve installed cameras and speakers in all of our courtrooms. We live-stream the Supreme Court of Guam’s hearings," Torres said. " And jurors can now receive updates on their cellphones, making more efficient use of their time when they are called to provide this public service."
The digital era is here to stay, and there is no returning to the analog world. With or without a pandemic, Guam’s judicial system is bound for cyber transformation.
Guam courts have accelerated the deployment of new technology that opens the legal process to make it accessible to the public.
Court services have made it more convenient for people to settle penalties for legal infractions or to pay fees for court clearances and documents. Traffic citations can be resolved online. Torres announced the courts’ new initiatives, including its transition to a case management system that promises to revolutionize access to court files and expedite the resolution of disputes.
The judiciary is expanding its E-filing to reduce paperwork. The new digital filing system, Torres said, ensures “more productive record-keeping." “Implementing an E-probation system will enable us to better manage clients and automate case plan recommendations,” he added. The judiciary has adopted online dispute resolution, or ODR, which Torres said will enhance traditional means of resolving disputes.
“With this platform, parties can conveniently resolve conflicts online, resulting in more affordable and accessible solutions,” Torres said. “Digital evidence management will also play a greater role in court proceedings—allowing for the organization, sharing, and presentation of digital exhibits from a single, secure platform.” Torres cited the mounting challenge faced by the courts when attempting to categorize digital evidence that necessitated a shift to a “digital evidence management system.” He noted that the digital era has spurred the creation of a vast amount of content such as smartphone videos, emails, texts, CCTV, social media and instant messaging that are presented as evidence at court trials. “Investing in this system will help our courts run more productively and provide greater access for law enforcement, legal professionals and litigants,” Torres said. The judiciary will also leverage technology to better promote public safety in the community by expanding the electronic monitoring program to post-conviction cases for individuals starting next month.
“The goal of our electronic monitoring program has always been to reduce recidivism and community risk,” Torres said. “Officers assigned to the EM Unit can supervise and monitor defendants 24-7 and immediately search, apprehend, and detain individuals who violate designated geographic boundaries.”
The courts will extend the program to the Adult Reentry Court and those under probation.
“By extending this program to nonviolent offenders convicted of a crime, we can provide a cost-effective alternative to incarceration, saving taxpayers money while ensuring that individuals adhere to the conditions of their release,” Torres said.
“The Judiciary of Guam is committed to enhancing public safety, and this expansion represents a critical step toward meeting this goal. But perhaps more importantly, it allows individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses to continue contributing to their families while serving their sentence—increasing the likelihood of successful reentry into society and away from the system," he concluded.