Judicial innovations: Driving citizen centricity

“Never let a good crisis go to waste. It’s the universe challenging you to rise to the next level of potential.” This is a quote from Kristen Ulmer, the best female big mountain extreme skier in the world, a status she held for 12 years.

The COVID-19 pandemic of the past 900+ days is one such crisis. As we emerge from this unprecedented stage in humanity and start to bounce back and recover, the terms and phrases that reflect the best and the latest in management thinking such as disruptive innovation, digital transformation, agility, the new world of work, empowerment, and customer centricity have come back to the fore after more than a two-and-a-half-year hiatus. Certain industries — such as banking, retail, telcos, and BPOs to name a few — have been nimble and embarked on pivots to remain successful during the pandemic and it seems that these ground breaking and mind shifting management paradigms have never left them.

Global transformation expert Keith Ferrazi, in his latest book entitled Competing in the New World of Work, highlights that for organizations to be the best separate from the rest, “radical adaptability” is required. In the Philippines and in all countries, this organizational response to rapidly changing internal and external environments is an integral part of the New World of Work and it is happening in seemingly the unlikeliest of organizations.

The Philippine judiciary is one fine example. In a lot of other countries, a new field called Government Technology (GovTech) seeks to improve the lives of citizens and establish a more responsive public service. The objective is for the Government to deliver a citizen-centric user experience that makes things easier for all.

When Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, together with the Supreme Court en banc, crafted the 2022-2027 Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations (SPJI), this citizen-centric user experience as an end state was at the top of his mind. This SPJI is anchored on four guiding principles, namely: timely and fair delivery of justice; transparency and accountability; equality and inclusion; and adaptability to technology. From these principles emanate three target outcomes: efficiency, innovation, and access.

Quoting a recent article from Rappler: “Before he was appointed Chief Justice, Gesmundo had taken on lead roles in several committees on reforms. As an example among other many reforms, the incremental transition to digital processes… enhanced Gesmundo’s name recall among the court’s users: the lawyers, litigants and even employees.” The same article confirmed that out of the three branches of government, people are least aware of what the Judiciary does. The ultimate customers are the end users of the first and second level courts with the judges serving as the faces of the judiciary. Everyone else in the judiciary organization exists to serve the judges, who are the internal customers. Awareness lies with the ultimate customers.

This SPJI has bolted out of the starting line and, this early, there are clear signs that the Chief Justice’s bold and ambitious plans will be realized. Here are some live examples from certain locations that must be scaled up and replicated nationwide over the long term:

1. There are amazing exemplars of first level (municipal trial courts, metropolitan trial courts, municipal trial courts in cities, and municipal circuit trial courts) and second level (regional trial courts) courts that are getting ready for the New World of Work. (NWOW) The NWOW is expressed in terms of three dimensions: Work, Workplace and Worker.

These courts did not “waste the crisis” by embarking on digitally driven e-courts, an automated case management information system that included e-raffling of the courts and e-payment of the legal dues. This system increased court efficiency and transparency by reducing court administrative workload and providing lawyers and litigants with easier access to case information.

Replication of these “courts of the future” that define the new world of work in the judiciary is scheduled for rollout over time and an e-court version 2.0 is planned for release. The workplace of these courts consists of a variety of interconnected digital devices including laptops, cellphones, desktops, selfie rings, wireless goose neck microphones, and smart videoconferencing TVs. The judges and court personnel, on the other hand, will have to be digitally savvy (a good number are already) in addition to the usual high competence and deep commitment that is required of judiciary personnel.

2. The effectiveness of the judiciary frontliners — judges and executive judges — is measured based on ensuring that both the case deadlines are met, and justice is fairly dispensed to all. This refers to adjudication, the legal process of resolving a dispute or resolving a case — which is one side of the coin of the role of judges and the executive judges. The other side of the coin is the tricky part.

This is the administration side such as procurement of supplies and equipment within their authority, the requests for hiring, posting vacancies, approving Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) within limits, preparation of reports required by the Office of the Court Administrator-Central Management Office, etc. Time devoted to administration consumes the available time for adjudication which ultimately affects the delivery of services to the public. The executive judges and judges must be saluted for balancing their primary adjudication work expected of them and the administrative work.

For the judges to be truly effective, they need to focus on adjudication work. Correspondingly, on the administrative side, this will involve supporting and strengthening the Office of the Court Administrator.

3. The judiciary is replete with Judicial Excellence awardees as recognized by a Society for Judicial Excellence within the Supreme Court. One common thread of these judge/executive judge/clerk of court awardees is the reduced number of case dockets during their stints in a court. Their effectiveness is multiplied severalfold if they are supported by competent and able judiciary personnel such as the Clerks of Courts, Legal Researchers, Stenographers, Sheriffs and other members of the team.

I strongly believe that transformation and innovation could thrive in any context. In the judiciary, the ingredients for success are there: leadership with political will, a strategic plan that promotes innovation, processes that will be driven by the internal and external customers, and a great sense of purpose to serve the people. It is just a matter of time before the judiciary becomes a prime example of what Government Technology could deliver in the Philippines. It may be a long road ahead but hopefully the judiciary will provide the spark that will spread like wildfire.

Ramon B. Segismundo is co-chair for Strategic HR Management of the MAP Human and Management Development Committee. He is founder and CEO of 1-HR.X Pte/ Ltd. Singapore, and a member of the Faculty of De La Salle University Graduate School of Business.

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