Higher standard in filing of criminals cases may not help justice system: lawyer


Posted at Feb 13 2023 01:50 PM

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MANILA – The Department of Justice (DOJ)’s move instructing prosecutors to immediately withdraw information or criminal charge in cases where there is no “reasonable certainty of conviction” may not necessarily lead to improvements in the Philippine justice system, a lawyer said Monday.

Speaking on ANC, Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) chairman Atty. Chel Diokno said the move may free up the dockets of cases judges have to deal with.

“But my concern is that it will result in the dismissal or withdrawal of cases involving both the innocent and the guilty, because there is a systemic flaw in our justice system that is not addressed by the circular,” he said.

“Our law enforcement, police, and other law enforcers operate on a different page from our prosecutors. Because for our Philippine National Police, it is enough for them that they have solved or cleared the case.”

Diokno noted that law enforcers define "clearance and solution rates" based on the identification and apprehension of the alleged perpetrators and the filing of charges.

“That means that they have enough evidence only to file a case but not enough evidence to convict,” he said.

“So that it often happens that when the case reaches the hands of the prosecutor, he or she can file the case in court, but he or she doesn’t have evidence to put that person behind bars,” he explained.

To address the low conviction rate in the country, Diokno said both police and the prosecutors must “operate to secure evidence to convict—meaning, to gather evidence. So proof beyond reasonable doubt.”

The lawyer said it remains to be seen whether or not the DOJ order will decongest Philippine jails.

“But for me, what we need is we need to protect, because we know that there are a substantial number of people in jail who really have nothing to do with the crimes they are charged with. And at the same time, we need to punish the guilty.”

“And that’s why to me, this circular alone will not do that,” he said.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla issued a department circular that was released Friday, instructing 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.”

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.”

--ANC, 13 February 2023