New guidelines for faster case resolution pending before SC

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 22 2011 09:50 AM | Updated as of Sep 22 2011 05:50 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) has crafted a new set of guidelines for litigation in lower courts in order to promote speedy and effective disposal of cases. The guidelines are now pending before the court En Banc for approval.

Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez told reporters that once approved, the guidelines will be pilot tested in Quezon City courts.

The guidelines will not only speed up case processing and disposition, it is also aimed at docket decongestion and consistency in court actions regarding procedural and practice requirements not expressly provided in the Rules of Court.

"We made consultations on these guidelines with stakeholders -- Quezon City judges, prosecutors, and the Quezon City branch of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines(IBP)," he said.

The attorneys of the Public Attorneys Office(PAO) of Quezon City was also consulted on the matter.

At a general consultative forum in January, a direct audience response poll was conducted to solicit feedback on the proposal; the results of the survey were disseminated at a subsequent forum aimed at securing comments and suggestions.

The proposed guidelines shall apply to newly filed cases as well as pending cases where trial has yet to begin, whether pre-trial has been concluded. As for pending cases where trial has already commenced, the consent of parties must be sought for the application of the guidelines in their case for the remaining of the proceedings.
The proposed guidelines for the Quezon City pilot test include:

- Limitation on proceedings -- pleadings subsequent to the complaint, answer and reply may be filed by parties only upon permission by the court, and must not exceed 20 pages in length, double-spaced, using size 14 font.

- Motions -- those that do not conform with Rule 15 of the Rules of Court on motions will not be considered by the court; courts can refuse to receive them. If received, the court shall issue an order declaring such motion "a mere scrap of paper unworthy of any further court action, without conducting hearings or requiring comment from concerned party.

Courts shall require only a comment or opposition to the motion and thereafter, the motion is deemed submitted for resolution. Replies, rejoinders or joint rejoinders are prohibited.

- Postponements -- courts shall allow only a maximum of 3 postponements for each party. Once consumed, no postponements shall be granted to the same party. No motion for postponement, whether written or oral, will be acted upon by the court unless accompanied by the original official receipt from the Office of the Clerk of Court evidencing payment of the postponement fee.

- Affidavits in lieu of direct testimony -- direct examination of witnesses shall be through affidavits, preferably in question-and-answer format. These affidavits shall take the place of the witness' direct examination and no additional oral direct testimony shall be allowed by the court except for the witness' identification and confirmation of his affidavit, its marking, and the identification of an accused in a criminal case where there is no stipulation on such identity.

Cross-examination shall be conducted immediately after the confirmation of the affidavit, and the testimony of the witness shall be completed on the same setting.

- Lack of transcripts of stenographic notes -- incomplete or missing transcripts of stenographic notes shall not be entertained as a reason to interrupt or suspend the mandatory period for deciding the case.

- Consolidations -- consolidation of cases shall only be allowed if both or all of the cases sought to be consolidated have not yet passed the pre-trial or preliminary conference stage.

Consolidation in civil cases should be granted only if there is identity of parties and issues in the affected cases.

- Inhibitions -- each party shall be allowed to file one motion for inhibition in any case strictly on grounds under Rule 137 of the Rules of Court on disqualification of judicial officers.

- Memoranda -- after completion of trial, the court shall require parties to submit memoranda which shall not exceed 20 pages in length, double-spaced, on legal size paper, using size 14 font.

- Free legal assistance -- if a party fails to qualify for the services of the PAO, the IBP shall provide free legal assistance to said party.

- Schedule of arraignment -- arraignment shall be set within 7 days from receipt of the case by the court for detained accused, and within 20 days from receipt of the case by the court for non-detained accused. The arraignment must be set in the commitment order in the case of detained accused, or in the order of approval of bail, in any other case.

- Suspension of arraignment -- courts shall strictly observe the general rule that there shall be no suspension of arraignment except for any of the three grounds stated in Rule 116, Section 11 of the Rules of Court.

In case of suspension of arraignment by reason of a pending petition for review with the DOJ, no court shall allow a suspension beyond 60 days. In granting motions on this ground, the court shall already set the arraignment on the 61st day from the date of filing of the petition with the DOJ, or the nearest available trial date thereafter.

A motion for preliminary investigation shall only be granted where the accused was made subject to inquest proceedings, pursuant to Rules 112, Section 7 of the Rules of Court.

 In cases where a motion for preliminary investigation or re-investigation is granted by the court, the city prosecutor shall complete the preliminary investigation or re-investigation, as the case may be, and submit its resolution to the court within 60 days from receipt of the order granting the motion for preliminary investigation or re-investigation.  Upon lapse of the 60-day period without a resolution on the preliminary investigation or re-investigation, the court shall proceed with the arraignment of the accused.  In the order granting the motion for preliminary investigation or re-investigation, the court shall already set the arraignment of the accused.

The court shall not allow the deferment of arraignment on ground of absence of counsel for the accused if a prior postponement for the same reason has been granted and both accused and counsel are duly notified of the arraignment.  In such instances, the court shall appoint a counsel de oficio to assist the accused for arraignment purposes only.

No motion for judicial determination of probable cause shall be entertained when a warrant of arrest has been issued or when arraignment has been set.

- Petitions for bail -- except in complex cases involving multiple accused and/or multiple offended parties, an application for bail shall be heard and resolved within sixty (60) days from the date of the first hearing and consistent with the rules, summary in nature, preferably requiring the submission by the prosecution of the affidavits of its witnesses with the right of cross examination by the defense.

- Pre-trial -- the court shall schedule the arraignment and pre-trial on the same date in the case of detained accused, except in cases which require mediation and/or judicial dispute resolution.  The pre-trial proper in the latter cases must be scheduled immediately upon conclusion of mediation and/or judicial dispute resolution.  

Pre-trial should proceed despite the absence of the accused and/or private complainant provided they were duly notified of the same.

The guidelines submitted to the court En Banc was a joint effort of an Ad Hoc committee, Office of the Court Administrator(OCA) of the Supreme Court, IBP, Department of Justice(DOJ), and assisted by the American Bar Association-Rule of Law Initiative.