The New PJP: The assessment process

Published October 11, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Justice Art D. Brion (ret.)


J. Art D. Brion (Ret.)
Justice Arturo D. Brion

(In Parts I and II of this series under Philja’s column “Views from the Ridge,” I outlined the constitutional and statutory foundations and background of Philja’s new Pre-Judicature Program (PJP) – its contribution in assessing the qualifications of applicants to the judiciary based on the Constitution’s express requirements of competence, integrity, probity and independenceI likewise mentioned that the discretion in choosing the applicants to be recommended to the President wholly belongs to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), not to Philja; the results of Philja’s new PJP is only one of the considerations the JBC may take into account. In the last Part (Part III – A & B), I outline in very broad strokes the new PJP’s assessment and quantification process, hoping thereby to add new perspectives to the standards the Constitution imposes on the judiciary’s justices and judges.) 

Part III-B of a Series

Implicit in this kind of exercise is the participants’ capacity to be self-learners: as lawyers, they should be sufficiently capable, individually and within a given limited time, to learn, imbibe and apply the specific knowledge and information given to them, again in the way that judges and justices would or should.   

After their individual asynchronous study, participants shall be engaged in synchronous or group sessions with chosen Philja specialists-lecturers who shall spend time with them to explore the extent of what the participants learned during their individual asynchronous study; to discuss what needs to be further explained; to provide them with new fact situations relevant to their given asynchronous materials; and to encourage them to participate individually and as a group in discussions where the focus shall be on questions and approaches specially geared to bring out the participants’ traits of competence, integrity, probity and independence, using their stock knowledge and talents, their asynchronous materials, and their new or hypothetical fact situations.

These sessions – asynchronous and synchronous – shall be rounded off by the actual interview of each applicant, using pre-studied questions and approaches intended to draw out the traits the judiciary is looking for.   

In the synchronous sessions and individual interviews, will come the challenges to the applicants’ capabilities, but these shall serve as well as their opportunity to exhibit their capabilities, among others, to absorb and use new knowledge, their skills in using logic and analysis, their ability to argue and to articulate their views, and their talent for inter-action and cooperation, based not only on the law but on the newly-given fact or hypothetical situations. 

Searching questions would be raised in these sessions relating to their grasp of the materials they had learned and their related implications: did they fully appreciate the given fact situations and their nuances, in light of the law they already knew or newly learned?  

How well did they appreciate the given facts, in terms particularly of their details and implications – the identification of the parties, their relationships, explicit and implicit roles, and their materiality or relevance to the fact situations and the applicable law?

Based on the applicants’ participation, the assessors shall note, observe and undertake their assessments: were the participants immediately able to analyze the facts and the law involved; were they able to discern the obvious and the hidden issues, both legal and factual; did they respond, in the way of those who must grasp and understand because they would eventually resolve the arising problems on the merits?

Based on the group interactions, were the participants able to think and argue logically and express their views orally, in the way they would need to understand and rule when they are already sitting as judges? Did they think on their feet, arriving at conclusions as fast as they need to do when they rule on objections to evidence before their future court?  Did they exhibit the capability to manage conflicting sides of arguments before them and to calmly rule, as they would need to do when they reply to counsels or in appreciating counsels’ differing views of facts and law?

How did the participants carry themselves in their discussions, and how did they react towards one another? What were their essential attitudes: were they courteous, polite, professional, temperamental, dismissive, cooperative, selfish or irritable, and did they accord others due and appropriate respect? Were they sensitive to everyone’s situation, particularly to those of the weak and the vulnerable?  What values do their attitudes and reactions suggest? For those applying for the appellate courts, were they sufficiently collegial in demeanor, approaches, and capable of holding their own in group decision-making?     

A final clinching aspect that Philja’s PJP seriously looks into is the participants’ capacity to write and deliver rulings and opinions as lawyers regularly do in and out of court and as judges would do when they decide cases.  Can they organize their thoughts and ideas systematically and express them clearly, in the way that every magistrate should?  

These, in the broadest terms, are what essentially transpire in Philja’s PJP where, in the course of three weeks, trained Philja lecturers bring out the participants’ traits and capacity for competence, integrity, probity and independence. 

For each of these attributes, corresponding scores are given through previously prepared performance rating sheets that Philja collates and delivers to the JBC. The applicants’ scores in every session and in every subject range from excellent; very satisfactory; satisfactory; unsatisfactory and failing.  

Based on Philja’s measures (that it duly communicated to the JBC), a worthy applicant should at least secure a rating of satisfactory. In percentile terms, this translates to a grade of 80 to 84 percent. Any applicant with a score below this cut-off point might only taint the judiciary and adversely affect the administration of justice: they do not deserve the JBC’s, or the appointing President’s, priority attention.