EJOW: Justice on wheels

By DateLine Philippines

MANILA–Talk about the wheels of justice getting real wheels.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno and World Bank Country Director Bert Hofman led in the inauguration of three new “mobile courts” at the SC new building courtyard in Manila.

The buses, procured at P6 million, beefs up the judiciary’s Enhanced Justice on Wheels (EJOW) program set up by the Supreme Court, with assistance from the World Bank.

Its main objective is to bring mobile courts to areas where access to justice is difficult.

The new buses will bring to six the SC’s mobile courts that have brought courtrooms to municipalities without regular courts, to detention facilities and youth reception centers, and to people who live too far from the nearest courthouse.

Launched by the SC in 2004 as part of its Judicial Reform Support Project (JRSP), the EJOW is designed to support the development of a more effective and accessible judicial system in the Philippines.

On top of hearing cases and providing mediation service, EJOW also includes medical and dental missions and free legal aid clinic to detainees, dialogues with justice stakeholders, and legal information dissemination to barangay officials.

Court officials said that as of December 17, 2009, EJOW managed to facilitate the dismissal of cases and subsequent release of 2,513 inmates. It also helped settle 5,361 cases through court-annexed mediation, and provided free legal aid to 1,103 detainees.

The court-on-wheels program likewise provided free medical and dental assistance to 6,883 inmates and oriented 11,900 barangay officials on EJOW and other judicial reform programs, as well as court rules that enhance human rights.

The mobile courts also visited the Manila City Jail and other detention centers to hear and resolve cases as quickly as possible.

“We bring the Justice on Wheels mobile courts to areas that are in need of adequate and inexpensive access to justice. With more Justice on Wheels buses, it is possible to bring fast justice that goes direct to a larger number of people,” Puno said.

Hofman, for his part, said the World Bank is honored to be part of the SC’s efforts to bring justice to those who have less access to courts due to distance and poverty.

“Enhancing judicial performance directly supports this goal by improving governance and expanding access to justice for the poor,” Hofman said.

For the first quarter of 2010, mobile courts will see action in the following areas: Kalibo and Roxas in the Visayas; Sta. Cruz or Biñan, Laguna; Malolos, Bulacan; La Union and Baguio City; Cagayan de Oro and Iligan or South Cotabato and Maguindanao; Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and Abra; Tarlac and Pangasinan; Iloilo and Bacolod; Bohol and the cities of Marikina, Mandaluyong, Taguig and Muntinlupa.

Six of the eight court-on-wheels buses, including the three new buses, were procured with the assistance of the WB. The remaining two were donated by the Sarangani province and the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

The mobile courts have likewise been augmented by donations of two customized container vans from the City of Manila and the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. The vans were converted into courtrooms and mediation rooms to hear cases at the Manila City Jail.

“We are very encouraged by the results of the EJOW Program and we have assured the Supreme Court that we will support an expansion of the program,” Hofman added.

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