Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s coming initiatives

Published December 12, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

THE LEGAL FRONT

By J. ART D. BRION (RET.)

J. Art D. Brion (RET.)
J. Art D. Brion (RET.)

“Massive revision” is how Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin describes the Rules of Court initiatives he will launch during his watch.  He also plans to tap “the law schools and law students to assist the poor and the marginalized” for greater access to justice, and to ensure that “the lower courts are the beneficiaries of his reform initiatives.”

Some quarters have expressed concern at the effects of extensive changes on practice and procedures, but they need not be alarmed. The Chief Justice was a trial lawyer, a seasoned trial court judge, and is a procedural law authority who should personally know the needs to be met, as well as the extent, limits and pace of the required changes. Many members of the Court have the same experience and expertise. Based on past practice, selected members of the Bar and the lower courts are also invited to participate in crafting the changes. Consultations with the Integrated Bar and lower court judges and justices are likewise part of the process.

Rather than worry, everyone should welcome changes as they shall be based on collective past experience and should simplify rather than complicate procedures,  improve the delivery of services and justice, and hopefully leave the public better served and satisfied. After our piecemeal amendment of the Rules of Court in the past, the massive and coordinated introduction of changes in our procedural rules is one opportunity to highlight promising areas for improvement.  As an example, law practitioners do not usually use modes of discovery and interrogatories, yet their extensive and effective use under simpler and more user-friendly procedures can lead to smoother trial flow, shorter actual trial time, and earlier decisions.

How hands-on law student training will unfold under CJ Bersamin’s watch still remains to be seen. Compulsory apprenticeship preparatory to, and as a requirement for, the Bar exams is a mode that the Court may want to examine. I underwent an extensive apprenticeship experience in Ontario, Canada about 30 years ago and their system, in my view, is worth exploring as a starting point.

At that time, compulsory apprenticeship was a requirement to be allowed to take the Bar exams in Ontario.  Law schools did not have law review subjects in their 3-year curriculum.  Instead, after 3rd year, students aspiring for the Bar were required to undergo one year of apprenticeship under articles of apprenticeship with accredited law firms or government offices.  This was commonly referred to as “articling.”  My own student apprenticeship yielded a respectable annual income with a month of paid vacation leave included.

As articling students, we were authorized to do what lawyers regularly do but under the supervision of our articling principals or their assigned lawyers. In some offices, articling students had “rotations” to better acquaint them with the different aspects of law practice.

The rotation gave us valuable court time when we entered our appearance as “students-at-law” under the supervision of a senior lawyer.  I recall that everybody – the judge and the opposing counsels, particularly – cooperated in stressing the basics of court practice.  As a matter of accepted practice, opposing counsels did not usually formally object when we handle the examination of witnesses; they would simply quietly inform the court that his “friend” may want to reform a leading question or provide foundational basis. The courts, on the other hand, were generally soft and relaxed in their rulings, and avoided embarrassing the articling students. One result, aside from the unforgettable actual lessons, was the building up of students’ confidence in appearing in court.

After the articling year, students enrolled for the Bar Admission Course consisting of classes taught by expert members of the Bar selected by the Law Society.  Through lectures and discussions, guided by Law Society-prepared books of examinable materials, 1 or 2 Bar subjects were covered at any one time for at least 10 days, after which the students were given their exam/s.  After each exam was a break, before another round of subject/s began and until all the required subjects were finished.

I recall that the instructions and the Bar exams consisted of theoretical questions and practical exercises. In remedial law, for example, we were paired with a partner at the start of the course; one of us was plaintiff’s counsel, the other was the defendant’s.  We exchanged pleadings during the course and argued our cases before a “judge,” based on written briefs we prepared and submitted.  Our submissions were all graded; even the oral arguments were covered by video and were also graded.

I remember that about 80% of the examinees from our batch passed.  Grades were privately released and no announcements of the top performers were made. Competition was not between law schools or students; students competed with themselves; the concern was to pass, with a good grade if possible.

Another feature of the Bar exams was the incorporation of Legal Ethics and Taxation in every subject, as taught in law school.  We also had a Legal Accounting exam individually administered through the use of computers.

I share this experience as contribution to the Supreme Court, with the hope that it can adopt an equivalent program for the Philippine Bar, adjusted to local usages and conditions.

***

In fond remembrance

Last November 29, 2018, a kind and gentle lady – Dr. Nelly R. Ledesma, hearing aid specialist and a pioneer in providing hearing aids to the public – passed on to her heavenly reward. To one who is hard of hearing like me, she was heaven-sent.  She made it possible for me to fully participate in life and to render public service without any handicap. Thank you very much, Doctora!

***

December 14 marks the death anniversary of Ka Blas Ople – our former Senate president, foreign affairs secretary, labor minister and assemblyman, and an author of books, ardent nationalist, and statesman – who died 15 years ago on board a plane from Japan to Bahrain on his way to join former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in representing the country. We won’t forget the personal and public service lessons you left us, Ka Blas!

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