Saturday, September 25, 2004

Increased judicial costs

Increased judicial costs

Updated 10:00pm (Mla time) Sept 25, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the September 26, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I RECEIVED a letter from a former student of mine from San Beda College who is now practicing law. He requests my support for his "respectable" objections to the recent amendment by the Supreme Court of Rule 141 of the Revised Rules of Court as "contrary to the basic principle of immediate and inexpensive accessibility of our courts to the people."

In his letter to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, which he hopes will seek a reconsideration of the Rule, lawyer Rex G. Rico focuses on Sec. 8 (p) and Sec. 21 (b) of the Rule which charge:

(p) For any other services as clerk not provided in this section, one hundred P100.00 shall be collected.

(b) For motions for postponement (whether verbal or written), after completion of the pre-trial stage, two hundred. For any other motion, two hundred (P200.00) Pesos.

Rico says that the clerk of court is paid a regular salary plus allowances for performing services inherent in his position which should therefore not be subject to special assessment to be paid by the lawyer or his client. If, for example, there is a need to examine judicial records as guaranteed by the right to information under the Constitution, will the clerk refuse such examination unless the fee of P100 is first paid?

Rico notes that the Rule does not distinguish between justified and unjustified motions, which are both subject to the prescribed fee. "There are motions that are justified, e.g., sickness or death of a lawyer or witness, flood or inclement weather, unresolved incidents before trial can proceed, like a motion to dismiss or demurrer to evidence."

To assess all kinds of motions without distinction is, he says, "counter-productive to the goal of speedy, just and inexpensive determination of cases. It may even be ridiculous." Most motions are, in fact necessary save only those that are dilatory or capricious.

"During the trial, may the judge refuse to rule on oral motions to strike out answers to questions for being irresponsive, hearsay, irrelevant, etc., or exclude other witnesses inside the courtroom not set to testify in that scheduled hearing, or motions to mark as exhibits certain documents/physical evidence, or oral motions for direct contempt made during trial for rude or disrespectful conduct in the presence of the court, until the assessments for such motions are paid?

"I am of the impression that the primordial reason for assessing motions for postponement, extensions and other dilatory motions is to discourage them and, hence, expedite early resolution and termination of cases. If so, why should a motion to resolve, for default, summary judgment, judgment on the pleadings, modes of discovery, etc. be assessed when they are the very instruments or vehicles for expeditious resolution of cases?"

Among the rules he invokes to support his request for a re-examination of the above-quoted sections and other questionable provisions of Rule 141 of the Revised Rules of Court is its Sec. 6, which provides that "these Rules shall be liberally construed in order to promote their objective of securing a just, speedy, and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding."

He also cites the provisions in the Bill of Rights, in addition to the Due Process Clause in Sec. 1, that "free access to the courts and quasi judicial bodies, and adequate legal assistance shall not be denied to any person by reason of poverty" in Sec. 11. He might have mentioned as well Art. VIII, Sec. 5 (5) that the Rules of Court to be promulgated by the Supreme Court "shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases." (Emphasis mine)

Rico hopes that I may have other changes to suggest but the truth is that I have not yet read Rule 141 as amended and can only comment on his own criticisms of the above-quoted sections, which I believe require careful consideration by the Supreme Court. For the nonce, I will only say that in characterizing motions as "verbal or written," the Rule seems to think that a written motion is not verbal. I think the phrase should be rewritten as "oral or written," both of them being verbal, of course. Judges should be careful even if Webster is not.

The IBP has already made representations with the Supreme Court for the re-examination of the revised fees that have provoked a lot of respectful (if quiet) opposition from the Philippine bar. Like other sectors of our society, we are already reeling from the increasingly unbearable burden of the cost of living. The thought that the increased fees are supposed to provide for the convenience or benefit of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, gives scant comfort, indeed, to us poor practitioners.

The latest report is that the Supreme Court has suspended the application of some of the protested fees. I hope that in moving for reconsideration of Rule 141, the IBP has not been charged the prescribed fee of P200.


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