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The next chief justice’s first task

In an unprecedented move, 22 organizations representing the business community appealed to the next chief justice for the uniform imposition of mandatory periods for case disposition. In a paper entitled “Need for Speedy Disposition of Court Cases,” these business organizations urged the next chief justice to lead by example and treat the periods prescribed by the Constitution to decide cases as uniformly mandatory across all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. Relatedly, the deans of three law schools, and the local chapter of the integrated bar, in Iloilo City, representing law professors, members of the bar, and officers of the Court, petitioned the President in an “Open Letter” to appoint a chief justice who shall similarly ensure mandatory observance of the periods prescribed by the Constitution for case disposition.

Both initiatives were anchored on the maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

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Section 16, Article III of the 1987 Constitution provides that “[a]ll persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.” Section 15(1) of Article VIII further provides that “[a]ll cases or matters… must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts.”Our Constitution’s plain command is 34 years old, so why these plaintive cries from the leaders of the business community and the lawyers’ sectors for the speedy administration of justice? This may be because, more than three decades after the ratification of the Constitution, the Court is still plagued with an immense backlog, the very evil the period to decide cases was designed to address.

In the 2019 case of GIOS-Samar v. Department of Transportation and Communications (G.R. No. 217158, March 12, 2019), the Court, voting unanimously, noted that as of Dec. 31, 2016, there were 6,526 new cases filed with it, for a total caseload of 14,491 cases. (Disposition by way of decision or signed resolution, on the other hand, was only 105 cases for the court en banc and 923 cases for its three divisions.) These, in the words of the Court then, were “staggering numbers.” Three years later, and despite the application of GIOS-Samar as a purposive “filter mechanism” to stem its backlog problem, the Judiciary Annual Report of 2019 notes an increase of the Court’s comparative year-end total caseload to 14,790 by the end of Dec. 31, 2019!

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To be sure, there is no single cause of the continuing problem of the backlog. Nevertheless, the business community was not wrong when it politely, but firmly, pointed out a significant cog in the problem, which to date nobody has dared to bring to the Court’s attention: that is, while the Court has over the years held the constitutionally-prescribed periods to decide cases to be mandatory on lower courts and its magistrates, it has yet to hold itself to the same standard.

With this said, I hope the Court takes the suggestion of the business community in good stead. Indeed, while it may not solve all of the problems of a court backlog (at least not immediately), a firm commitment from the high court itself to observe the constitutional standard will, at the very least, serve to disabuse naysayers of the notion that the right to speedy disposition of one’s cases ends when one’s case is brought before the Supreme Court. At best, it will be a model of leadership by example, one that may kickstart the fulfillment of a long-promised constitutional right. In either case, it will certainly be a meaningful step in the right direction.

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Francis H. Jardeleza recently retired as an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

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TAGS: chief justice, Commentary, Francis H. Jardeleza, Supreme Court
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