Who Judges The Judges?

Judges are threatening to go on leave unless they are given a pay hike.

I am not sure this is such a bad thing, going on leave I mean.  With legal cases often taking decades to be resolved what difference will it make were the judiciary to take a three month break?

It may even help resolve some disputes since it may encourage litigants to settle out of court.

There are 600,000 cases pending in the lower courts and 6,000 in the Supreme Court. In the Philippines the justice system is not only lumbering, it is in a coma.

Midas Marquez, Supreme Court Administrator and spokesperson has insinuated that judges may go on leave if the pay demands for 2300 justices and judges and 25,000 court personnel are not met.

The Government is apparently budgeting P17.9 billion for the judiciary for the next fiscal year, a 10.4% increase over the previous year but far short of the reported P27.1 billion that the judiciary is expecting. The latter is 67% over the current year’s budget.

Apart from budgetary support, the judiciary funds itself mainly from filing fees which last year amounted to P 2.18 billion.

The judges are referencing RA 9227 which apparently calls for them doubling their salaries since the bill was enacted in 2003.

Currently a first level judge reportedly receives P25,000 a month while an associate justice of the Supreme Court makes P40,000 a month. No wonder that the system is riddled with corruption.

I find it unconscionable that judges are paid so poorly.

I also find it unconscionable that court cases take decades to be adjudicated.

Which brings me to my point, that while judges should be better compensated – even beyond the 100% increase they are demanding- the community also deserves to be better served by the system.

What about instituting a meritocracy where judges are paid based on results?

Under this system, judges and court personnel would directly receive a percentage of the filing fee based on how speedily they resolve a case.

Litigants that delay proceedings would be penalized a fixed amount every time they seek an extension.

To expedite matters, all filings would be done online to promote transparency. This would pressure parties to speed up proceedings and to prevent bureaucratic court personnel from burying cases. Service of filings would whenever possible be done electronically to keep things moving.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines would be furnished a copy of all pleadings and would be flagged every time a case goes beyond an agreed timeline.

A percentage of filing fees would go to support the infrastructure.

A fair and speedy system of justice is the cornerstone of civil society and a vibrant economy.

An efficient judicial system helps to grease the economy by settling disputes that often hold up commerce and industry. If banks could enforce their claims more speedily they would be prepared to lend more money to businesses and consumers thereby fuelling growth.

The swift prosecution of criminals bolsters law enforcement thereby deterring crime. It encourages good governance among public officials.

Socially, a healthy judicial system leads people to become better citizens. It strengthens their faith in laws and social tenets without which there would be anarchy where courts would be replaced by lynch mobs.

Judges deserve better compensation. However they also have a responsibility to account to the nation.

Lack of judicial accountability is the source of the problem. Who judges the judges? Who does one turn to for justice when the system of justice fails you?

The judiciary is the last redress of a people. You can take away a person’s livelihood but you cannot take away his humanity. And that is what a system of justice does: It renders to a person his essence, the values of fairness, compassion and redemption  that are at the core of the human condition.

The public and the media are relentless -as they should be-on the Executive Branch when they screw up as they did with the Luneta hostages; but are mum when 606,000 legal cases lie moribund in the halls of so-called justice. Yet over time the latter represents a graver symptom of disease than the former. Why is the Judiciary, an equal branch of Government, held to a lower standard of governance?

We as a nation need to have this conversation. We need a debate on how to restore the nation’s faith in the judicial system, on how to discourage people from taking the law into their own hands.

Perhaps the budgetary process is one way to start this discussion. The Ampatuan case is another.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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One Response to Who Judges The Judges?

  1. Eduardo Cu Unjieng says:

    Some excellent insight and ideas here. I especially like the suggestion to compensate judges according to their performance i.e., how quickly they resolve cases brought before them.

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