Speeding up quality justice (2)
Last Sunday, I wrote about the four “INs” of good judges, the four “SHIPs” they must be impervious to, and the challenges of filling up judicial vacancies.
Novel ways to unclog dockets. Given our limited number of judges and the huge volume of pending cases, it is necessary to search for novel ways of unclogging dockets and of trimming the inflow of new cases.
The most obvious is for judges to work double-time and follow strictly the “Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases” taken up in this space on Nov. 12.
Given the huge caseload of about 980,000 pending in the 2,400 trial courts (as of June 2017) nationwide, hard work—while desirable and laudable—is not enough. Establishing new salas and naming more judges thereto will help, but will also not be enough. In addition, the following should be encouraged:
Arbitration and mediation, especially in commercial and civil cases.
Plea bargaining in criminal cases.
Much more lenient penalties for guilty pleas of nonrecidivists.
Hefty damages for frivolous cases and swift disciplinary sanctions for lawyers espousing them.
Trimming the inflow. Even if the judges heroically work overtime, the backlog will remain if the inflow of new cases is not stemmed. We are a litigious people, and the process of litigation is unduly long. Parties invoke overdue process to gain unfair advantage or to delay judgments.
Courts have enough powers to make short shrift of patently unmeritorious cases with no hope of winning, either due to their improbability or to the impossibility of proof. Trial courts have not extensively used the shortcuts provided by the Rules of Court, like judgment on the pleadings or summary judgments.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court itself has prolonged, sometimes in the name of misplaced fairness, the processing of cases. I think it should dismiss or deny outright petitions and administrative matters that are clearly bereft of merit, instead of asking the opposing parties to comment on or to answer them.
From my humble observation, more than 80 percent of full-length decisions merely affirm the judgments of appellate and trial courts or merely reiterate settled jurisprudence. I think a more extensive recourse to minute resolutions or unsigned decisions would greatly help in disposing of old cases.
Also, a periodic report published on the Court’s website on the progress of pending cases will contribute to the cause of transparency and speedy disposition. It will also show the justices’ production and exemplify those who promptly dispose of their cases.
E-courts. The computerization and digitization of the entire judiciary have been a long overdue project pending since I began my judicial career more than two decades ago. I know that E-courts have been started, but I think they should be hastened and should be comprehensive to a point that parties and their lawyers can determine the exact status of their cases by simply accessing the website of the specific court concerned.
At present, the websites are quite limited in content and usage. They simply show the decisions and resolutions promulgated, not the proceedings of the cases as they progress from stage to stage.
Courts, including the Supreme Court, are still heavily paper-based. I think that along with the technological advances of the present age, the judiciary should be digitized, from the preparation and filing of pleadings, to the live proceedings themselves and to the service of the judgments. And I am talking not just of the Supreme Court, but also of all courts including the lowest trial courts.
During the last 10 years, the Court of Appeals has been able to trim its backlog under the leadership of then Presiding Justice Andres B. Reyes Jr., who has recently been promoted to the Supreme Court. (See this space on 6/11/17, “Unclogging the Court of Appeals.”)
Perhaps the Court could use his expertise and experience and finally solve its backlog. As they say, the wheel need not be reinvented. With Justice Reyes on board, the Supreme Court’s reform wheels can, I am sure, turn more efficiently and speedily.
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