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December 31, 2009

ABA ROLI Trains Philippine Judges on Speedy Trial Laws

December 2009    

In the Philippines, with so many backlogged cases, litigation takes years, and sometimes decades, to be resolved.  In criminal cases, defendants often languish in jails awaiting trial longer than the maximum stated punishment for the crime of which they are accused.

In late November and early December, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) trained 97 trial court judges on the 1998 Speedy Trial Act. The training is meant to enhance the act’s implementation in criminal trials by minimizing lawyers’ delay tactics and reducing the courts’ caseload. Participants, who said the act is rarely used, hailed the trainings held in Cebu and Manila.

 Hon. Teresita Galanida of Mandaue City said, “I have learned new effective pre-trial techniques that I can use to minimize motions for extensions and promptly dispose of cases.” In his opening remarks, Adolfo S. Azcuna, the Philippine Judicial Academy’s (PhilJA’s) chancellor and former Supreme Court justice, expressed his deepest appreciation for the program and for the collaborative efforts of PhilJA, the Supreme Court, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and ABA ROLI.

“This is a culmination of a long dream and finally it is a reality,” he said. “The importance of speedy trial and the disposition of criminal and civil cases cannot be emphasized enough. Justice can only be achieved if it is delivered timely and completely.”

Associate Supreme Court justices Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin, who at the request of ABA ROLI penned a handbook for judges, discussed the laws and rules of procedure related to speedy trial and disposition of civil and criminal cases. They also provided insights on the root causes of litigation delay and described innovative techniques to handle common problems.

Presiding judge Geraldine Faith A. Econg of Cebu City shared her experiences with case management techniques that facilitate workflow and help monitor case progress, which helped clear the caseload she inherited in her court. “Leadership of the judge is critical in achieving success,” she said. “Commitment in setting standards and goals to create an environment of expectation and involving court staff in making policies will breed a culture of efficiency in the administration of justice.”

Judge Marvin Hamilton of the Superior Court of Alaska spoke on how, as a sitting trial judge, he monitors the amount of time either party to a criminal matter is spending on their case, all with an eye towards reminding them that sanctions are available if either side violates the speedy trial laws. He said that judges have a moral and legal obligation to ensure the laws and rights of criminal defendants are observed from the bench. He said, “Judges are the beacons of hope, the assurance of fairness and promise of justice. It  is important to remind ourselves that these are real individuals looking to us for help, so we need to be the keepers of those promises.”

ABA ROLI’s program to increase compliance with the act was launched two years ago with support from USAID. ABA ROLI has worked with the Public Attorneys Office, helping it draft a set of guidelines for filing motions to dismiss for failure to prosecute in a timely manner. Tens of thousands of these motions have since been filed. ABA ROLI has also worked with PhilJA on developing training modules to boost judges’ ability to enforce the act and on commissioning two Supreme Court justices to write a judicial handbook on using the power of the bench to increase compliance with the act.

To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.