Byline: Josue N. Bellosillo
(Continuation of the speech delivered by Senior Associate Justice JOSUE N. BELLOSILLO as Inducting Officer and Guest Speaker of the Citizens Legal Aid Society of the Philippines held 16 January 2003 at the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club, Mandaluyong City.)
THE causes of delay are complex and interrelated most of which are mainly attributable to the parties and their lawyers: their slothfulness in preparing for trial or the lack of preparation of their lawyers who object unnecessarily to evidence, even without factual or legal basis, or in general, fare very poorly in trial work; deliberate delays and pre-trial maneuvers by litigants with the aid of their lawyers; failure to utilize the pretrial procedure efficiently and effectively such as clarifying issues at an early stage, or discussing the options for settlement or plea bargaining; and, unnecessary postponements and adjournments.
The reluctance and lackadaisical attitude of judges to actively manage their cases or their outright sloppy preparation can lamentably slow down the proceedings. Before the pre-trial, the judges are expected to read the pleadings thoroughly, anticipate what facts may be admitted by the parties as may be gleaned from their pleadings, as well as documents to be used as exhibits and determine the genuine issues that the parties may ventilate at the trial, and then guide and lead them accordingly.
There are also institutional shortcomings, including the unavailability of legal representation, the paucity of judges and court personnel, and the unreasonable stretching of the period for hearing and resolving cases. Problems like the absence of legal aid lawyers and prolonged vacancies in courts call for institutional solutions.
Well within the grasp of a trial judge is another solution: to recast or reinvent his traditional role of leaving primary responsibility for the pace of litigation in the hands of the parties and their lawyers. The judge should instead assume a more active role in monitoring and managing the conduct and progress of cases from the time complaints are filed up to their final termination. Caseflow management involves a deliberate transfer of some initiatives in case preparation from the parties to the court with the aim of ensuring the timely resolution of cases without compromising the quality and fairness of the process. As case manager, a trial judge must strictly scrutinize motions for postponement as well as intelligently use pre-trial and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms where cases are detoured from litigation, or at the minimum, are reduced to the bare essentials so that trial time is drastically abbreviated.
Excessive case processing time, more often than not, involves the conscious, or even unconscious, behavior of the parties and their lawyers. According to a 1988 survey on the profile and perception of judges in pilot courts on the continuous trial system, court delay is largely attributed to lawyers who irresponsibly manipulate procedural rules to gain endless continuances for their cases.
Clearly, this attitudinal problem among lawyers is likewise at the root of court delay for lawyers seem to nestle inefficiency as an inherent part of trial practice. Attorneys fees must be charged per case, instead of per appearance, where in the latter case, postponements are even remunerated, at least in effect, so that the incentive among lawyers to participate in a trial strategy to delay court proceedings will be greatly minimized. Lawyers should collect attorneys fees per case that should cover all professional services in the prosecution or defense of their clients to discourage postponements and piece-meal presentation of evidence; thus, lawyers will be motivated to finish their case assignments within the soonest possible time to enable them to attend to their other cases, and earn more!
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