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On September 5, the Supreme Court of the Philippines unanimously adopted a new procedural rule that mandates the use of judicial affidavits for direct witness testimony in most cases in first- and second-level courts and quasi-judicial bodies nationwide. The rule, which is the first major judicial reform under new Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, will drastically cut trial times.
Deputy National Court Administrator Raul Villanueva explains the new pilot litigation rules to a group of lawyers, judges and other stakeholders in Quezon City in the days leading up to their implementation.
The rule grew out of a pilot project that has been testing innovative court rules in Quezon City courts since April. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), helped conduct the pilot project, which identified key litigation procedures that can be amended to reduce trial times in a country where cases take an average of six years to resolve.
Under the new rule, instead of conducting direct testimony in court, attorneys will submit affidavits with questions and answers that witnesses have supplied while under oath. To give opposing counsel sufficient review time, the affidavits must be submitted at least five days prior to a preliminary conference in a case or the hearing of motions. In trial, attorneys cross-examine witnesses based on the already submitted affidavits. Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva said that the rule will cut “the presentation of witnesses,” which accounts for much of a trial’s length, by 50 percent.
The judicial-affidavit rule is part of the Philippine judiciary’s larger campaign to reduce trial times and increase judicial efficiency and access to justice. Other reforms, such as limiting the number of pages in briefs and the number of continuances lawyers can request, are still being tested in Quezon City, with ongoing support from ABA ROLI and USAID. ABA ROLI has worked closely with the Philippine Supreme Court and other stakeholders to craft and implement pilot rules, and to develop a system for monitoring and evaluating their effectiveness. ABA ROLI solicits inputs from judges, lawyers and court personnel to ensure that the resulting rules address stakeholder-identified problems. ABA ROLI has also trained affected personnel to support the successful implementation of the rules.
More information on the Quezon City pilot project can be found below:
To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.