Judicial Reform and the Laws of Physics

Published July 19, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Justice Art D. Brion (ret.)

Views from the Ridge

Justice Arturo Brion, Chancellor, Philippine Judicial Academy

School lessons learned in younger years often become dormant ideas unless incited back to memory by some current needs or activities. I found two such lessons, both from Physics that I took up years ago, as I looked over the reforms now happening at the judiciary.

My old Physics lessons tell me that a body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. This is Newton’s first law of motion or the law of inertia. Another law provides that a body’s momentum depends on the force acting on it, or on the body’s mass multiplied by its velocity.

Applying these laws to the oft-repeated intent to reform the judiciary,one determines the current state of things (or Ground Zero) and from there,move towards the results sought to be obtained,mindful of one’s timeline.

These laws tell us – by analogy – that we need to push (or apply energy) to the great mass of the judiciary to gather momentum for the planned reforms. Initial efforts are often the hardest as reforms involve change. Starting from rest is not easy; equally difficult is a change of direction. The status quo is usually far easier to maintain.

Reforms also require deliberate planning although the judiciary is fortunate in this regard as the reforms’ main author, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, already has a concrete, clear and unambiguous yet simple reform plan as early as his Judicial and Bar Council Interview, building on previous reforms and the unfinished efforts of his predecessors.

The Chief Justice’s plan rests on an underlying foundation – the establishment of an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) structure for the judiciary and the Supreme Court. To the Chief Justice, an unavoidable reality to contend with is the judiciary’s existence in the 21st century whose main mode of operation is the computer; any reform to synchronize the judiciary with the times and with its environment must perforce use the computer and its technology.

A leading component of this plan is to review and assess the organizational structure of the entire judiciary, and to integrate its systems – accounting, finance, human resources and others – and fully harness them as supports for its main task – adjudication.

To show his resolve on how he means to address adjudication, the Chief Justice started, alongside computerization, with a measure everyone will understand and appreciate. He started with the operations of the Court en banc itself, by reinterpreting the constitutional rule on the disposition of cases. The en banc shall henceforth resolve all newly filed cases within 24 months from their submission for resolution, thus removing the unregulated flexibility that the members of the Court used to enjoy.

This is a giant first step as it significantly demonstrates the readiness of the whole Court to start its reform efforts through a sacrifice – by applying the first reforming rule to itself.

The Court has likewise recently moved in two significant directions. First, it reviewed its Internal Rules and introduced its first amendment – on the Consolidation of Cases – to ensure continued action with the least disruption on related cases. Second, it responded to a highlighted problem in the service of warrants by mandating the warrant servers’ use of body worn cameras in undertaking their task.

The rules of procedure, now already being simplified, shall continue to be reviewed to achieve greater adjudicatory efficiency and effectiveness. The Chief Justice, however, went beyond mere amendment by asking for more – changes for the more efficient operation of the court system itself. In other words, he does not only want procedural rules modified; he asks for their effective implementation. This requirement adds a whole world of new meaning into the amendment of rules that had been done in the past.

The crowning part of the plan is to provide models of leadership through demonstrated legal competence, moral and ethical values, clear directions, and a collective political will for reforms, while demonstrating their unity and empathy with the whole judiciary through continuing consultations with its key stakeholders.

I saw this leadership aspect very recently and I was touched. While updating the judges’ Bench Book (a basic reference tool since 2011) we received the Chief Justice’s reminder that the judges themselves must be heard, even if only through a survey, to determine what they need; what they want; and what they feel about the Bench Book.

Thus, our judges now are no longer simply Bench Book users; they have become part-owners of the updating process – a big difference in what the Bench Book now means to the judiciary. It now stands for how the judiciary is an integrated whole that feels for all its parts. We have become a family.

To get back to Physics, the Chief Justice has shown, since assuming office – particularly since his June 11 Supreme Court anniversary speech – that he has moved from Ground Zero. He is now openly and deliberately on the move towards reforms. The inertia of change has shifted from rest to motion.

Significantly, he is not alone; behind him stands the whole Court providing the impetus, direction and the energy propelling the whole judiciary toward the fulfillment of his well-considered plan. All these cannot but lead to the momentum that effective reform requires.

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