Inconsistent SC rulings cause backlog pileup
Former chief justice Reynato Puno pointed out that, among other things, lack of “financial resources is one reason the judiciary cannot liquidate its backlog of undecided cases” (“Our system stinks,” Opinion, 8/8/15).
Has he forgotten what made shocking news years ago? The Supreme Court has yet to satisfy the public’s curiosity regarding the alleged misuse and diversion of judicial funds (“World Bank bares Supreme Court misuse of loan for judiciary reform,” Inquirer.net, 1/14/12). This is not to mention the wasted funds used to refurbish the Supreme Court’s Padre Faura offices cum living quarters and the already luxurious Baguio summer hideaways for its 15 “honorable justices” (and their families) at the expense of dingy courtrooms (looking more like vermin-infested bodegas) all over the country!
But apart from that, why is there a backlog of cases in the first place? From where we stand, we see one obvious reason. The inconsistencies in many Supreme Court decisions are a huge factor that contributes to the docket congestion. Law practitioners look to those decisions as beacons by which they are supposed to calibrate their pursuit of or desistance from cases. They are called jurisprudence, a sort of crystal ball by which they can foresee where their cases are going.
If “well-settled jurisprudence” points to a dead end, most lawyers back away from stubborn clients who in turn start thinking twice about making further ado over a non-issue. But if conflicting Supreme Court rulings provide possibilities for the courts to go one way or the other, then it becomes a question of which party can hire the smartest lawyers to run circles around the other. A helter-skelter scenario is what immediately comes to mind!
Prosecutors get their bearings, too, from the pronouncements of the Supreme Court. If a case law says the evidence available will amount to nothing, it is at once discarded. That saves time. No indictment is lodged against anyone on that basis alone. But if the prosecutors see contrary pronouncements, they go ahead and leave the matter up to the courts—perhaps to flip a coin after wasting years of trial!
Needless to say, judicial stability can only be attained if the justices comprising the different divisions of the Supreme Court get their act together. Consistency in the decision-making process is a huge deterrence against the reckless filing of suits. “Cases of first impression” are very rare; most filings are run-of-the-mill, surely not wanting in past precedents. Cut and dried halos ang mga ’yan. But if precedents “don’t mean jack” because of conflicting rulings, Houston, we really have a problem!
—MARIUS V. CANONOY, [email protected]
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