New continuous trial rules speed up resolution of criminal cases: SC

By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan

September 9, 2018, 2:18 pm

MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC) said criminal cases in trial courts are being resolved much faster compared to previous years following the implementation of its Revised Guidelines of Continuous Trial in Criminal Cases since September last year.

Chief Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro on Sunday noted that trial in many drug cases are being resolved within two to two-and-a-half months from the time they are filed, as required by the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, while trial in other criminal cases are finished within six months, pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act.

The pertinent provisions of both laws were incorporated in the guidelines released by the High Court.

The SC reported that 47.82 percent of cases have complied with the 180-day period for trial provided by law and the Rules of Court compared to the 2.36 percent prior to the effectivity of the revised guidelines.

The high tribunal added that cases are also being decided more swiftly with 68.5 percent of judgments have been promulgated within the 90-day period required under the Constitution, compared to only 37.75 percent in previous cases.

“We are still at the early stages of implementation and I expect the results to be better in the months ahead,” said SC Justice Associate Diosdado Peralta, who drafted the Revised Guidelines, in a statement issued Sunday.

Peralta explained the innovations and simplification introduced in the Guidelines are intended to remove redundancies in criminal procedure.

“The guidelines try to address the bottlenecks we saw in criminal cases,” the magistrate said.

Among others, the revised guidelines provide a list of prohibited pleadings, which cause delay in criminal cases and requires judges to pre-schedule all hearing dates.

“The trial dates for both the prosecution and defense are set during arraignment. This is binding on the parties and cannot be rescheduled,” said Peralta adding that postponements of hearings have been considered a major cause of delay.

The magistrate added that the 15-day period required under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 to decide drugs cases reached an all-time high of 57.37 percent compared to the pre-Guidelines rate of 12.58 percent.

The SC noted that 2017 saw a rise in the number of drugs cases with a total number of 289,295 filed with the trial courts, but with only 34,673 or 12 percent disposed.

“Although we are failing in drugs cases insofar as the 60-day period to finish trial from the filing of the Information is concerned, these cases were nevertheless decided within the 10-month period since the implementation of the Guidelines,” Peralta said.

Out of the 94,209 drug cases filed from September 2017 to June this year, 7.89 percent complied with the 60-day trial period compared to the 0.02 percent before implementation.

“Our judges are trying their best, and we have seen improvements in drug cases because of continuous trial,” Peralta added.

The Revised Guidelines on Continuous Trial in Criminal Cases took effect on Sept. 1, 2017 after it was piloted in 54 trial courts in Metro Manila.

The program was implemented with support from The Asia Foundation and the American Bar Association, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The innovations and simplification introduced in the revised guidelines are intended to remove redundancies in criminal procedure. It provides a list of prohibited pleadings that cause delay in criminal cases and requires judges to pre-schedule all hearing dates.

Under the revised guidelines, if motions for postponements are granted based on exceptional grounds and upon payment of the postponement fee, no additional trial dates will be given to the moving party, who is also warned that the presentation of its evidence must still be finished on the dates previously agreed upon in the arraignment and pre-trial order.

“We are successful because of the technical and funding support from our development partners that helped us in this initiative,” Peralta said.

Meanwhile, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez attributed the improvement to the simplified criminal procedure.

“The streamlining of procedure and the strict requirements under the Guidelines have improved the performance of courts in terms of disposing criminal cases,” Marquez said. (PNA)