Digital divide and access to justice

I was invited to observe an online court hearing today and it was an interesting experience — it introduced me to learn another digital communications app, and it led me to reflect on the reality of digital divide. In fact it made me ask: How many of the accused will be wrongfully convicted because they cannot access, or at least do not have proper access, to digital communications technology? Or, asked another way, how many guilty people will be acquitted because they have state of the art equipments?

During the hearing, the lawyer for the prosecution had been asking the accused to fix his camera as only the latter’s forehead can be seen. The lawyer was arguing that he will not be able to see the demeanor of the witness because the angle and the quality are so poor. Unfortunately, the accused cannot do nothing as the camera may have been fixed and that there is no space for him to move backward.

In another instance, the screen was filled with the ears of the lawyers because they cannot hear the judge; and in a number of times, there were mistranslations on the part of the Clerk of Court because he could not also hear properly the statements of the witnesses — either because of the poor equipments, or because of the Internet connection.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

The above is for those with access to digital apps no matter how poor the equipment and internet connection are. Because the court’s camera moved, a frame of the courtroom was revealed — there were those who still appeared physically for lack of access to digital communications. And the worse part — they not only exposed themselves to possible COVID-19 infection but also the individuals who will meet them at home or, in the case of prisoners who attended to their hearings, their fellow inmates and jailguards.

But of course, only a few feels this situation. The higher ranking government officials are either busy bickering or are starting to prepare for the coming elections. So what if justice is improperly served? It is only the concern of the parties involved. While the digital divide is a serious issue, we can only do as much. As President Rodrigo Duterte said: Ang greatest disadvantage natin is hindi tayo mayaman.

And, being poor as we are, let us just be contented in that state because it is not the government’s job to ensure that at least everybody will have equal access to justice.


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