New Modes of Filing and Service of Court-Bound Papers
The Supreme Court of the Philippines recently approved several amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure, which are to take effect on May 1, 2020. The amendments cover a broad number of topics, such as the mandatory use of judicial affidavits, the required contents of pleadings and more limited grounds for motions. One noteworthy change which would alter the internal practices of lawyers and law firms is the expansion of modes of filing and service to accommodate private couriers and even electronic mail.
Two New Modes of Filing and Service
Filing is the act of submitting required documents, such as pleadings and motions, to the court; whereas service is the act of providing a copy of such documents to the other parties. The filing and service of court submissions are governed by Rule 13 of the Rules of Court. Previously, there were only two ways of filing and service: personal filing/service and via registered mail using the Philippine postal system.
Among other amendments, Rule 13 was substantially revised and now generally provides for two additional ways of filing and service. These are (1) through accredited courier, and (2) transmitting them by electronic means such as electronic mail and (in the case of service) facsimile transmission. These modes of filing and service may be availed of by the parties to the action, except in the case of initiatory pleadings (such as civil complaints) and initial responsive pleadings (such as an Answer), which must still be served personally or through registered mail.
Filing/Service via Accredited Courier
Prior to the amendments, filing or service via private courier or courier service was not recognized by the Rules of Court. Jurisprudence had held that filing by private courier was equivalent, if allowed at all, to filing by ordinary mail. The date of filing with the court would be the date of actual receipt of pleadings by the court, and not the date of mailing of the pleadings through the private courier. Under the amendments, it is the date of mailing through the accredited courier which is deemed as the date of filing.
The amended Rules also provide that service by accredited courier is deemed complete upon actual receipt by the addressee, or after at least two (2) attempts to deliver by the courier service, or upon the expiration of five (5) calendar days after the first attempt to deliver, whichever is earlier. Further, in order to prove either filing or service by accredited courier, the person who brought the pleading or paper to the service provider must execute an affidavit of service, together with the courier’s official receipt or document tracking number.
The amended rules refer to filing or service “by accredited courier”. It remains to be clarified which couriers have been accredited, or what the accreditation process will be.
Filing/Service via Electronic Mail
The other new mode of filing and service now authorized under the amended Rules is through electronic means — by electronic mail (“email”) or other electronic means in the case of filing, or through electronic mail, facsimile transmission or other electronic means as may be authorized by the trial court in the case of service.
Filing by email or other electronic means may be authorized by the trial court in places where the court is electronically equipped. The amended Rules do not define what these other electronic means could be; this lack of particularity may eventually accommodate without need of further amending the Rules an electronic filing system that the judiciary may eventually adopt. In the meantime, it is plausible that filing or service of pleadings would primarily be coursed through email, given the dwindling reliance on facsimile transmissions as a mode of communication.
In case of filing through email, the amended Rules states that it is the date when the email or other electronic means was transmitted which is considered to be the date of filing. The amended rule does not require the court’s acknowledgement of receipt in determining the date of filing. Rather, all that is required is the actual sending as evidenced merely by the date of transmission.
On the other hand, service by e-mail is conditioned on the parties concerned consenting to service by electronic means and facsimile. Service by electronic means is either by sending an email to the party’s or counsel’s email address, or through other electronic means of transmission as the parties may agree on, or upon direction of the court. Electronic service is deemed complete at the time of the electronic transmission of the document, or when available, at the time that the electronic notification of service of the document is sent. The amended Rules also provide that electronic service is not effective or complete if the party serving the document learns that it did not reach the addressee or person to be served.
As it is somewhat routine to change one’s email address, the amended Rules outline a notification procedure if a party changes their email address while an action is pending. The party must promptly file within five (5) calendar days from the change of electronic mail, a notice of the said change with the court and serve a notice on all other parties. While the language of the rule states that it is “a party who changes” their email address who must file the notification, the same obligation must be presumed of the party’s counsel who changes their address, since electronic notice to such counsel, if permitted, would also bind the party.
As with filing and service through accredited courier, a separate affidavit is required in order to prove the filing or service through electronic means. The affidavit is to be executed by the filing or serving party. In the case of service, all that need be attached to the affidavit is printed proof of transmittal. In the case of filing, the required attachments to the affidavit are different. In case of filing by email, the affidavit is accompanied by either a paper copy of the pleading or document transmitted, or a written or stamped acknowledgment of its filing by the clerk of court. If the filing was through any other authorized electronic means other than email, the affidavit is to be accompanied by a copy of the electronic acknowledgment of its filing by the court.
The amended Rules prescribe a format for the subject of the email (case number, case title, and the pleading/document title), and for the title of the attached electronic document (it shall contain sufficient information to ascertain the filing/serving parties, the nature of the paper, the party or parties against whom relief is sought, and the nature of the relief). The amended Rules though are silent as to the format of the attached electronic document itself, leaving unanswered questions as whether the document should bear the image of the counsel’s written signature (as would be the case if the attached document were physically scanned from a physically signed copy), or if a Microsoft Word or Google Document file would suffice. Given that filing and service through electronic means under the amended Rules is hardly mandatory and would require the authorization or consent of the trial court and the parties, it may take several years before we see clarifying jurisprudence or further rule changes that define the contours of electronic filing and service.