Continuously improving our courts
Our people rely on our courts not simply to administer justice, but to administer justice in a timely and efficient manner with due regard to the rule of law. The burden of leadership lies with the Supreme Court, the nation’s ultimate adjudicator.
The Court, a collegial body, is in turn led by the Chief Justice, the primus inter pares who oversees the continuing improvement of our courts to ensure their effective response to the needs of our increasing population and a society that is fast becoming complicated.
For the past six months, a new Chief Justice, Alexander G. Gesmundo, has carried not only the accumulated burden of the past but also the continuing demands of the present in leading the Court; now, he must likewise look to the future of the dispensation of justice in our country.
CJ Gesmundo benefits from the past initiatives of his predecessors in the Court. Notable among these initiatives is the recent amendments to the rules of civil procedure and evidence. Although unseen and unfelt by the public, these new rules will lead to speedier yet increasingly fair resolution of disputes.
Under CJ Gesmundo’s watch, the Court issued the rules on the use of body cameras during police search and seizure operations to ensure the protection of our people’s constitutional rights. These rules will serve as standards for all enforcement, prosecutory and adjudicatory agencies. The implementing details are now under development under the judiciary’s lead.
Likewise, largely unseen, is the improved use of computerization to ease communication between and among judges and court personnel; to provide easier access by the public to the courts; and to ensure continuing court operations despite the pandemic. Court Administrator Midas Marquez has written about these new developments in this Column (Views from the Ridge, July 12, 2021).
A very important recent development, too, this time courtesy of Congress, is the increase in the jurisdictional amounts of cases covered by the first level courts (municipal trial courts). The amendments shall have the effect of unburdening the higher second level courts (Regional Trial Courts) of part of their load of cases and, overall, shall ease up the pressures on these courts.
These statutory changes cannot but serve as live prompts for the Court to re-visit the Rules of Court, particularly, the relevant rules governing small claims and the rules on summary procedure for simplified proceedings in first level courts.
The Court could likewise take advantage of this round of forecasted procedural amendments to revisit the Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The amendments called for by the recent statutory changes essentially relate to procedural matters that are at the fingertips of our new Chief Justice who had been a Remedial Law professor at the Ateneo Law School for a good number of years; who had served his initial law practice years at the Office of the Solicitor General; and who thereafter served with the Sandiganbayan for almost 12 years before joining the Supreme Court as Associate Justice.
With the Judicial Integrity Board now duly established and ready to make its presence felt judiciarywide, the handling of disciplinary cases and the maintenance of integrity within the judiciary should now be sufficiently addressed, leaving behind only the concerns for the prompt and efficient handling of disciplinary cases involving members of the Integrated Bar. A clean sweep of procedural amendments could see the Court casting its eyes on the IBP for effective action on these Bar disciplinary concerns.
Significantly, the judiciary was not caught unprepared by the recent statutory changes in jurisdictional rules. The Chief Justice early on had already been moving to further strengthen the judiciary by supporting the moves of agencies under his direct watch – the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) which he heads as Chair, and the Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA) whose Board of Trustees the CJ also heads.
The JBC is now amending its internal rules to expressly recognize for the first time the mandatory character of the Prejudicature Program – the screening program that PhilJA administers pursuant to R.A. 8557 – to assess the qualification of applicants for judicial appointments and promotion. The PJP shall now serve as the objective measure that the JBC can use, among others, in considering who to include in its short list of recommendees to the President for judicial appointment.
These twin moves, commonly made under the guidance of CJ Gesmundo, cannot but impact on and improve the judicial appointment process, a decisive factor in improving the performance of our courts.
Please address all questions, comments or concerns to: J. Arturo D. Brion (ret.) at firstname.lastname@example.org