Editorial & Opinion

Clogged courts and jails

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A modern, democratic, free society exists through the rule of law.

Laws provide the framework within which a society functions harmoniously, and the people are protected.

A police force is formed to ensure adherence to those laws. And a court system is established to penalize wrongdoers, ensuring they won’t hurt society any more than they already have.

Business relies on these laws to ensure that it can operate within known guidelines.

But a problem this system has created worldwide is the “ambulance chasers,” the lawyers that see a bit of money in convincing someone to sue. We are now in a world where accidents don’t happen. It’s always, according to the ambulance chasers, the fault of someone, and that someone must be sued. So they do.

Courts are clogged with cases they shouldn’t entertain - thousands, nay tens of thousands, to a point beyond their capacity to handle. And more thousands of people are in jail when they shouldn’t be. Either they are there on nonbailable offenses, or for accusations no rational person would accept. This is a first area where the courts could improve: Be discretionary. Throw out frivolous cases. And start by releasing all in jail who can’t pay bail, yet have been locked up longer than their term had they been found guilty. Stop all this bureaucratic and legalistic nonsense. Just release them. NOW.

Based on the latest available data, there are some 1.2 million cases in the nation’s courts, with only around 1,620 judges to resolve them. On average, that’s 741 cases per judge. Historically, the average period in which to decide a case has been two to three years for minor cases, and 10 years for major ones. This means that if a judge presides in the courtroom for about 251 days (the national average), it would take more than three years to clear his/her docket. New cases are being added daily.

It took our court system 20 years to resolve the Vizconde massacre case. In many instances it’s taken far, far longer, particularly if you are without influence. The Maguindanao massacre, the worst election-related violence in Philippine history, is still pending in court seven years later, and far from resolution.

Civil cases are just as poorly treated by the courts. I have a case in court concerning the ownership of a piece of land. It’s been 21 years now - yes, 21 - and the judge still hasn’t decided.

The courts are clogged with cases that shouldn’t even be in the courts. Time to use intelligent discretion.

As of April 2016, the Supreme Court had nearly 8,000 cases. Section 15, Article VIII of the Constitution states: “All cases or matters filed after the effectivity of this Constitution must be decided or resolved within 24 months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, 12 months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts.” That so many cases take far longer than this is a violation of the Constitution.

As to the jail system, it’s a national disgrace. Have you seen the pictures? Men crowded together in conditions I wouldn’t even make an animal suffer. The budget for meals is, I think, a measly P60 a day. The whole system is inhuman, in need of proper funding and major rehabilitation of the infrastructure, and the system.

I firmly believe that the Supreme Court should, as I’ve argued before, only accept cases that challenge the Constitution or can set important precedents.

It’s a court system in need of a major overhaul. The Chief Justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, acknowledges all this and is working hard to resolve it. But she needs money, a leapfrog jump in it. Without it, one can’t even pretend to aspire to court efficiency. Money is also needed to attract more people to become judges - with a salary more commensurate with their position. It’s planned, it’s started, but there’s miles to go and bridges to cross. And the whole system needs digitization, which is being done.

In the meantime, we have a court system that is not adequately providing the legal support that a society needs. – Inquirer.net


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