'Reasonable certainty of conviction': Remulla orders higher standard in filing of criminal cases

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 11 2023 01:56 PM

Justice chief orders withdrawal of cases if they do not meet new threshold

MANILA — Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has issued a department circular raising the threshold for filing of criminal cases in court.

In a circular released Friday, Feb. 10, Remulla instructed prosecutors to immediately withdraw information or criminal charge in cases where there is no “reasonable certainty of conviction,” departing from the current standard for preliminary investigation which is “probable cause.”

Remulla orders higher standard in filing of criminal cases

The circular defined cases with a “reasonable certainty of conviction” as those which are supported by “prima facie evidence” or evidence that is good and sufficient on its face.

Citing the Department of Justice’s policy direction to only file cases with reasonable certainty of conviction and the Justice Sector Coordinating Council’s (JSCC) efforts to unclog and decongest court dockets, Remulla ordered prosecutors to “carefully assess all their cases and to determine if each has a reasonable certainty of conviction based on the evidence in hand, availability of witnesses, and continued interest of private complainants.”

The Rules of Court, under Rule 112, section 1 on preliminary investigations, currently requires only that there should be a “well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial" before cases are filed in court.

Remulla first suggested raising the degree of proof for filing criminal cases in court from "probable cause" to "reasonable certainty of conviction" before a JSCC meeting in Baguio in January.

“We all know that there is a need to narrow the great divide between the current degree of proof needed for the filing of a criminal information, probable cause, and that of conviction, which is proof beyond reasonable doubt,” he was quoted as saying in a press briefer released by the Supreme Court.

The JSCC is jointly chaired by the heads of the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

In a statement Friday, DOJ spokesperson Asec. Mico Clavano said the circular was based on the executive function of the Secretary of Justice.

“His policy is to file only quality cases in court - cases that will yield convictions,” Clavano said.

He explained that as a result of the wide gap between ‘probable cause’ and ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt,’ conviction rate suffers and the congestion rate in jails balloons with some individuals released only after they are acquitted.

“In other words, the resources of government [are] wasted when weak cases are filed. These problems, among others, can be solved by filing only cases with a reasonable certainty of conviction,” he added.

But should the Rules of Court first be amended by the Supreme Court before the DOJ can implement a new standard in preliminary examinations?

Clavano said the provision on preliminary investigation under the Rules of Court may either be amended or completely done away with.

“An amendment of Rule 112 is forthcoming as the Supreme Court has agreed to let DOJ take the lead. It is also possible that Rule 112 will be completely removed from the Rules of Court to make it a purely executive function,” he said.

ABS-CBN News reached out to the Supreme Court Public Information Office but has yet to receive a response.

A prosecutor however invoked prosecutorial discretion in determining whether to file a case or not.

A criminal procedure expert, who declined to be named, said this is a positive development.

“It will not only unclog the dockets, it will hopefully also result in less frivolous filings and put the police investigators on notice that they should investigate bettter--with an eye towards securing conviction, not just closing a case,” he said.

Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento told ABS-CBN News they “will implement directions of the SOJ (Secretary of Justice) on the matter.”

The circular takes effect immediately.