Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Judicial dispute resolution (JDR)

In En Banc A.M. No. 04-1-12-SC-PhilJA, August 29, 2006, “Re: PhiLJA Resolution No. 06-22, re: Revised Guidelines for the Implementation of an Enhanced Pre-Trial Proceeding under the JURIS Project, as Amended”, the Philippine Supreme Court adopted the rules of the new judicial dispute resolution (JDR) system of the Philippines (described as an “enhanced pre-trial proceeding”) under its on-going JURIS Project.

The Court has piloted the new concept in selected trial courts in the Philippines which are called “JURIS model courts”.

As an explanatory note, the Court noted that despite the priority given by Rule 18 of the Rules of Court (“pre-trial”), as amended, for the amicable settlement of cases, “most trial judges go through the function of exploring settlement perfunctorily for various reasons, including fear of being disqualified if he goes into the process more intensively”.

In general, the concept is that “mediatable cases” are referred to Court-Annex Mediation (CAM) for mediation under accredited mediators in the Philippine Mediation Center (PMC) and subsequently referred to Judicial Dispute Resolution (JDR) “for further mediation by the judges” if it is not resolved under CAM. If the case is still not settled in JDR, “the case is transferred to the pairing court to proceed with trial”.

The judge conducting the JDR is called the JDR judge instead of pre-trial judge because under the revised guidelines, pre-trial proper is resumed after JDR, but this time, to be conducted by the trial judge instead of the judge who conducted JDR.

A case may be referred to JDR “even after conclusion of the pre-trial and during the trial itself”.

The JDR judge “may preside over the trial proceedings upon joint request of both parties”.

A limited period is imposed for settlement of JDR cases, i.e., thirty (30) days for first level courts and sixty (60) days for regional trial courts. These periods may be extended upon the discretion of the JDR judge.

Where settlement on the civil aspect has been reached in criminal cases covered by mediation but the period of payment in accordance with the terms of settlement exceeds one (1) year, the case may be archived upon motion of the prosecution with concurrence of the private complainant and approval by the judge.

The civil aspect of theft, under Art. 308 of the Revised Penal Code, is now part of the cases for referral to mediation.

The concept is that the JDR judge acts as “the mediator, the conciliator, early neutral evaluator, or a combination of any of the above”.

As a mediator and conciliator, the judge facilitates the settlement discussions between parties and tries to reconcile their differences.

As a neutral evaluator, the judge assesses the relative strengths and weaknesses of each party's case and makes a non-binding and impartial evaluation of the chances of each party's success in the case.

On the basis of his neutral evaluation, the judge persuades the parties to reconsider their prior reluctance to settle their case amicably.

Judicial proceedings shall be divided into two stages: (1) from the filing of a complaint, to the conduct of CAM and JDR during the pre-trial stage, and (2) pre-trial proper to trial and judgment.

The judge to whom the case has been originally raffled shall preside over the first stage. He shall be called the JDR judge.

The concept is that the parties will be “more spontaneous once they are assured that the JDR judge will not be the one to try the case”.

As such, the general rule is that “the JDR Judge shall not preside over the trial of the same case when mediation did not succeed”.

In multiple sala courts, if the case is not resolved during JDR, it shall be raffled to another branch, where the rest of the judicial proceedings up to judgment shall be held. The judge for that stage shall be called the trial judge.

Any incidents or motions filed during the first stage shall be dealt with by the JDR judge at his discretion.

In single sala courts, the case shall be transferred for mediation to the nearest court (or pair court, if any), since “only mediation is involved”.

Whatever the result of the mediation may be, the case is always returned to the originating court for appropriate action - either for the approval of the compromise agreement or for trial, as the case may be.

In Family Courts, due to the special nature of a family dispute for which specialized family courts have been designated, parties may file a joint motion requesting that the case be tried by said special court despite the judge thereon having been the JDR judge.

However, if there is another family court in the same JURIS site, “the trial judge shall be that of the family court which did not conduct JDR proceedings”.

In Commercial Courts, the JDR shall be conducted by the pair judge of the commercial court.

Where JDR does not succeed, “the judge of the commercial court shall be the trial judge”.

Cases may be referred to JDR even during the trial stage upon joint motion of the parties.

If the motion is granted, the JDR shall be conducted by the pairing judge in multiple sala courts, or in single sala courts, by the nearest court (or pair court, if any).

Whatever the result of the JDR may be, the case is “always returned to the originating court for appropriate action - either for the approval of the compromise agreement or for trial, as the case may be”.

To safeguard the confidentiality of mediation proceedings, the JDR judge shall not pass on any information obtained in the course of conciliation, early neutral evaluation, or mediation to the trial judge or to any other person.

All JDR conferences shall be conducted in private.

The JDR judge may, however, “confer in confidence with the mediator who previously mediated the case, merely for the purpose of determining unresolved issues”.

The pilot-test shall apply to the following cases:

(1) All civil cases, settlement of estates, and cases covered by the Rule on Summary Procedure, except those which by law may not be compromised;

(2) Cases cognizable by the Lupong Tagapamayapa and those cases that may be referred to it by the judge under Section 408. Chapter VII of the Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the 1991 Local Government Code;

(3) The civil aspect of BP 22 cases;

(4) The civil aspect of quasi-offenses under Title 14 of the Revised Penal Code; and

(5) The civil aspect of Estafa, Libel, and Theft.

A party who fails to appear for mediation or JDR conference may be imposed the appropriate sanctions as provided for in Rule 18 of the Rules of Court and the relevant issuances of the Supreme Court.

A recommendation to impose sanctions shall be made to the JDR judge by the mediator before whom the absence took place, upon the request of the present party.

If all parties are absent despite due notice, the mediator shall motu proprio recommend the imposition of proper sanctions upon all of them, including dismissal of the case.

Among others, the JDR judge may require the non-appearing party to reimburse the appearing party his costs, including attorney's fees for that day, up to treble the amount incurred payable on or before the next mediation session.

A party who appears without the required authorization may be similarly sanctioned

If settlement is reached, the parties, with assistance of their counsel, shall draft the compromise agreement for approval of the court by judgment upon a compromise.

Where compliance with the compromise agreement is forthwith made or the claim is otherwise settled, the parties shall instead submit a satisfaction of claims or mutual withdrawal of the complaint and counterclaim upon which the Court shall enter an order dismissing the case.


Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr.

Laserna Cueva-Mercader Law Offices

Las Pinas City Bar Association