Mexican administration of justice under Covid-19

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Andres Hernandez
Malpica, Iturbe, Buj and Paredes, Mexico

Juan José Iturbe
Malpica, Iturbe, Buj and Paredes, Mexico

The pandemic has deeply affected the understanding and traditional methods of justice administration. The risks of compromising access to justice, understood as an essential public service for the population, must become an impulse to develop economic mechanisms that are simple, transparent, open and accessible to the greatest number of people.[1]

Mexico is a country where the administration of justice has been eminently ‘face-to-face’. The consultation and monitoring of judicial files require the continuous and uninterrupted presence of both trial lawyers and the parties. So much so that, almost 120 days after the widespread suspension of work in local and federal judicial bodies, only the federal judicial branch and 14 state judicial branches have reactivated their proceedings and enabled processing of all cases remotely.[2] In judicial branches, where there are no electronic or digitised files, teleworking is much more complicated.

In this regard, the current situation has led to a new context for access to justice in terms of technology use. For example:

  • the federal judicial branch allows the processing of all its cases online and at the state level,
  • sixteen judicial (local) powers allow the filing of lawsuits or requests remotely; and
  • nine allow complete follow-up of their cases to through a so-called ‘online trial’.[3]

Initially, the judicial authorities that developed the electronic file have a clear advantage. By allowing litigants, experts and the parties to consult the file and its notifications online, this tool avoids or limits the concentration of people in the courts, which is the objective of the ‘healthy distance’ policy. This solution also allows jurisdictional officials to work from home. Therefore, some judicial authorities are focused on reducing the workload or the technological limitations that they had until now.[4]

The ‘online trial’ and the form it takes in the coming weeks will determine the immediate future of access to justice. For this reason, it should be noted that both the federal judicial branch and the local powers require a statistical monitoring system that provides reliable data on the efficiency of implemented systems.

Technological mechanisms to streamline the delivery of justice are not without obstacles. Computer security can be challenging. As regards virtual hearings, the use of existing platforms, whose apparent lack of security has been pointed out, does not necessarily guarantee that the hearings are carried out properly. Some judicial authorities, such as in the State of Mexico, have developed internal video conferencing systems that aim to offer sufficient levels of security to conduct virtual hearings.[5]

Another obstacle to the greater use of technologies in the administration of justice is the uneven internet coverage in Mexico. As much as a judiciary goes to great lengths to create world-class programs or applications, if the parties involved in a lawsuit do not have access to the internet or have their residences in areas with poor internet reception, the tools cannot be used. Connectivity is a major theme.[6]

The judicial powers that are developing new technological tools to facilitate the consultation of the status of the files will also have to ask themselves which of these can be maintained or adapt after the contingency. This is important because they can allow not only broader access to justice, but also generate savings in time and/or paper.

In fact, they may also allow us to think of ways to make the work of judicial officials more flexible – particularly those who must care for others. Many of these tools could also contribute to reducing the spaces for corruption that could exist when carrying out judicial procedures. That is, if its development includes the necessary security and is accompanied by the corresponding transparency and accountability.

Without a doubt, the pandemic has affected the administration of justice in Mexico, both local and federal, and it is generating forced changes. It is time for litigators and judges to take advantage of the situation and move towards an administration of justice that reaches the constitutional parameter of expediency.

[1]This principle is recorded in article 14 of the General Constitution of the Mexican Republic.

[2]Either through an electronic platform that existed before the pandemic or through an electronic platform created ad hoc.

[3]This data was obtained by an investigation guided by co-author Andres Hernandez from the consultation of the multiple statutes published by the local judicial powers in the web. Subsequent to the edition of this article, the federal judicial council in Mexico issued new rules for the processing of federal trials through decrees 21/2020, and 22/2020, which were not analysed by the authors.

[4]As of the date this article is edited, as a health measure the Council of the federal judiciary in Mexico allowed only 30 per cent of its staff to assist to court daily.

[5]Kate O’Flaherty,‘Zoom Security: Dramatic U-Turn Confirms Encryption For Millions – But At a Price’ (Forbes, 17 June 2020), available at www.forbes.com/sites/kateoflahertyuk/2020/06/17/zoom-suddenly-confirms-end-to-end-encryption-for-free-users-in-dramatic-u-turn/#737468587420.

[6]President López Obrador has reiterated that Mexico registers a great backwardness regarding access and availability of connectivity, since ‘only 25 per cent of the territory is connected’, CIU, Cobertura de Conectividad en México, 21 January 2019, available at www.theciu.com/publicaciones-2/2019/3/31/cobertura-de-conectividad-en-mxico.

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