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The Philippines to digitise bar examinations

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bar examinations will push through in a digitised, localised, and proctored modality – a first in the Philippines’ history.

The Supreme Court (SC) issued Bar Bulletin No. 18, Series of 2021, approving the digital Bar exams that will be conducted in local sites in the country, deviating from the tradition of it being held in a university in Manila. This came on the heels of the pilot (mock) Bar examinations conducted by the high court among 80 students through computer software while being proctored in a testing room. This was done in Metro Manila, Baguio, Davao, and Cebu.

Proving that more equitable and inclusive Bar exams can be done at the height of the pandemic, the SC decided to conduct a digitised one. This year’s Bar exams are for 2020-2021 after the high tribunal decided to postpone last year’s edition. The SC said the local sites have yet to be finalised, as it will still review applications based on minimum requirements that it will release. Applications for the testing sites will be accepted until April, with audit teams evaluating these areas according to the high court’s standards. After the local sites are determined, the court will announce the guidelines for application to take the Bar examinations.

Meanwhile, the country’s highest court also said that Bar exam applications will be accepted via an online application system. Applicants need not go to Manila to visit the Office of the Bar Confidant unless needed to verify the authenticity of documents submitted. Those who have completed the requirements will be able to download the computer software to be used during the exams and will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with it.

The SC also emphasised that examinees would have to bring their Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, which must have an integrated display screen, keyboard, and trackpad or pointer device, with sufficient internal battery power. The laptops must run on Mac or Windows operating systems.

Also, during the examination day, the computer hardware of the examinees will be thoroughly checked by court personnel. The examinees will then be required to sign an “Honor Code” wherein examinees agree that once they commit cheating or help others cheat during the exams, they may be permanently disqualified for the current and future Bar examinations.

The SC also said that proper health protocols will be strictly observed during the exams, including proper physical distancing in the testing rooms. COVID-19 testing will also be placed in each of the testing sites. The Court will also explore arrangements for a predominantly Saliva RT-PCR testing modality in each of the testing sites.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, the SC boosted its digital transformation by issuing Administrative Circular 37-2020 for the pilot testing of hearings of criminal cases through videoconferencing in select courts in cities nationwide. This year, videoconferencing was formally institutionalised, and the guidelines and the conduct of video conferencing became effective.

For the first time in its 119-year history, the Philippine judiciary has blazed a new concept by allowing remote testimony from parties situated even in different parts of the nation and the globe, said SC. The court administrator said 27,000 courts across the country have carried out 170,000 video-con hearings from May 4, 2020, to January 8, 2021. At present, all courts are authorised to conduct videoconferencing hearings, bringing the total to 2,715 courts.

The SC picked an international communication and collaboration platform which is also interoperable with the judiciary’s other projects. The international tech giant said they are privileged to work alongside the SC in this historic achievement where remote appearances from parties across and beyond the country are now part of court proceedings.

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