Why not empower litigators?
Have you ever wondered whether there’s a period prescribed for Philippine courts to decide on cases?
Circular No. 38-39 (implementing the rules of the Speedy Trial Act of 1998) requires that arraignment and pretrial be held within 30 days from the date the court acquires jurisdiction over the person of the accused. It further sets the time limit for trial at a period which should not exceed 180 days from Day One.
And, yes, no less than the 1987 Constitution mandates that all cases or matters filed after its effectivity be decided or resolved within 24 months from the date of submission for the Supreme Court, 12 months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts.
I’m not kidding. Those are actual periods set by the Constitution and our rules. I can’t blame you if you had a good laugh over that piece of information.
In my almost five years of experience as a litigator, I have been involved in all the stages of trial — right from the filing of the complaint and up to the finality of the decision — and I can attest that the regulatory periods cited are a mere recital of words most of the time. And when our laws and rules are seen as such, something needs to be done.
I once handled a drug case involving minors who had spent almost one year in the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. We were trying to speed up the process but we were caught up by the presiding judge going on holiday leave. The hapless minors got to spend the holidays away from their grieving parents.
I likewise handled a homicide case which, after three years, is still at the stage of the prosecution’s presentation of evidence. It was stalled because of numerous postponements both by the parties and the court. Unfortunately, the private complainant, the widow of the victim, decided to no longer participate in the prosecution of the case as it had become too much of a burden on her.
And don’t get me started on the cases I inherited from the previous handling lawyers now that I am working for the government. Some of the cases date back to the early 2000s and, worse, to the late 1990s.
Yes, we all know that delayed cases are difficult to avoid because of the intricacies of work and the sheer workload of our judges, public prosecutors, the Public Attorney’s Office, other public lawyers — and let’s include the staff and employees of our courts of law. Why don’t we empower litigators then?
Let the lawyers of both parties meet, talk, negotiate, compromise, compare documents, simplify matters, disclose witnesses, and do anything useful to the case, right after the case is filed. Order them to come to court only when everything is all set for the one-setting trial of the case. This will dispense with all these settings for mediation, judicial dispute resolution, preliminary conference, pretrial, etc. This will eliminate various motions as well, since the court has already given the litigators time to meet and talk beforehand.
No time limit, no pressure. Let the lawyers take their time to develop a winning case. And when they come to court, the conclusive presumption is that the documents are set, other evidentiary matters are on hand, the witnesses are available, the lawyer is ready to present, and all other matters and concerns have been taken into consideration. No continuance, no resetting. What comes next is that the case has to be submitted for resolution. The formal offer of evidence could be dispensed with.
Now, the hardest part — the cons of this far-reaching, sweeping idea. I know it would be a very long list. But the idea is a start of something good. Empowering litigators might be the change that our judicial system has been yearning for all these years.
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Oliver Cachapero Jr. is a lawyer at Land Bank of the Philippines and a lecturer at San Beda College.
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