The COVID pandemic has brought immense change in the way legal procedures happen in Mexico. Some changes have been welcomed by the legal community, but some remain to be reverted or fixed.
The good side: digital systems.
Back when the pandemic started, all courts closed and stayed that way for many months. But during that time, budget was allocated to create digital systems for procedures.
Actually, some of those digital systems already existed, but they were limited. That was the case with the federal courts digital system, which used to be only available for amparo trials but has been now made available to all commercial trials (like when suing a company).
In the local courts, most of the states didn’t have digital systems, but quickly created them to make sure claimants and defendants could interact with courts without visiting the actual court.
On the administrative side, the federation was already trying to change all of the procedures into digital versions, so the change was just accelerated. On the state level, most governments just started thinking about digital systems because of COVID.
The main tools have been three: i) making digital appointments, ii) filing online paperwork and evidence and iii) following up digitally, with access to a file online. Some courts have also allowed hearings to be held in web conference.
Yet many procedural codes have not yet been adapted and many questions remain open. Just as an example, in court some evidence can be put inside a closed envelope so that no one can access it until both parties are facing the judge; but so far there is no digital system to file closed envelopes and anything filed is made available to the counterpart since the beginning.
Other procedures have been made more complicated, like the IMSS digital system for recording workers and paying their social security. The current version has very big glitches which have forced accountants and attorneys to mix filing digitally and visiting the local offices of IMSS to verify the filing was done correctly (and beating the purpose of having a digital system at all).
The bad: waiting times
When most courts reopened in the autumn of 2020, files were piled all the way to the ceiling. Most courts were not fully closed during the first part of the pandemic, for example, Guanajuato courts since august were open to receive paperwork from plaintiffs, but they had minimal staff on premises. Few months later, the different desks inside court could be seen with an extraordinary number of files. Up to this date, over a year later, there are still files form before the pandemic which are just being started to be processed.
In the federal administration the problems are bigger. Government workers have been going into the office in alternate numbers. Files have been allowed to go home for home office style of working and, as it should have been foreseen, files have been lost that way.
Some federal offices even suspended time, like the Foreign Ministry (SRE) which passed an internal regulation claiming time was not passing anymore, so that their status of limitations to answer to plaintiffs can’t transpire.
Using the Foreign Ministry as a good example, their procedures are now taking up to 20 times longer. Before the pandemic, they had an internal regulation for finishing procedures before 5 days. Now there are procedures open which are over 6 months, without answer.
The worst: we are still far from fixing things
The system was already having problems before the pandemic. The federation made a huge budget cut in 2019 and resources are very slim. And a big part of the problem is clearly economical, as the only way to improve the situation is to get more personnel (even if it’s temporary), but some agencies don’t even have money for gas.
It is possible that it will take the country five or more years to get again to procedure times from before the pandemic, when the clot created by current procedures finally disapears and digital systems take root and make things faster.
For the meantime, the only way to deal with this situation is to always have enough time to get things done, not entering into contracts that asume things are still happening as fast as they used to be.