Change Management in Judicial Reforms

Manila Bulletin, September 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Change Management in Judicial Reforms


THE Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR) evolved from several assessment and diagnostic studies and the Supreme Courts Davide Watch which provided the vision and mission to produce an independent, effective and efficient Judiciary worthy of public trust and confidence and which will provide quality, ethical, accessible and cost-efficient legal service.

As stated earlier, the reform program is faced with challenges, one of which is that of pursuing judicial independence in a traditionally centralized system. The Judiciary, like the Church and the military are the three institutions today that operate within a hierarchical culture which values compliance, respect and strict adherence to rules. This is why any change process should be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Reforms are being implemented with severe resource constraints and many of these planned changes are not even within the Judiciarys administrative authority such as control of budget and civil service rules.

Case congestion and delay tops the list of the most urgent problems. As of March 2003, a total of 810,718 cases have been pending the regional trial courts with 306,595 cases; metropolitan trial courts at 177,640 cases; and the municipal trial courts in cities with 147,525 cases. But there has been a substantial declogging of the courts since improved systems for case management including alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADRs) were introduced three years ago. Implementation of reforms is likewise hampered because of 644 court vacancies throughout the country. Both the Fourth and Ninth Judicial Regions alone have one-third of all vacancies. There are 1,486 judges to serve 79.8 million Filipinos, or a ratio of one judge per 18,621 people.

With a miniscule budget of less than one percent of the national budget, it is not surprising why the Judiciary is unable to respond to such need as physical infrastructure (many still hold court in dilapidated quarters of municipal halls) and skills training of its human resources. Public perception of corruption continues although this is difficult to document and measure. A Social Weather Station study indicated that around 70 percent which had direct experience with the court believe that many judges are corrupt. Certain areas of operations are vulnerable to corruption and this is where court discipline, a Unified Code of Ethics and a disclosure policy should be able to address. From 1998 to early 2003, the Supreme Court had dismissed one justice of the Court of Appeals, censured on Supreme Court justice, and admonished two from the Court of Appeals and one from the Sandiganbayan. At the Regional Courts, 136 were fined; 49 were admonished; 31 reprimanded; 18 dismissed; 15 suspended; and one was censured and another had his benefits forfeited.

Access to justice of the marginalized, especially women, is limited. There is however a favorable balance in the ratio of women to men among judges and division heads. …

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