The Judges-at-Large Act of 2018, which was sponsored by Senator Dick Gordon, could be the solution to the problem on court vacancies as stated by Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta.
According to Peralta, around 20 percent of courts nationwide are vacant and in need of judges.
The Chief Justice said that one of the reasons is that “there are some stations where there are no takers”.
The Constitution, Peralta added, also requires that there should be at least three candidates for a post. A position, he explained, cannot be filled up if there are only two applicants.
“The 20 percent vacancy problem will be solved once the budget for the 100 judges-at-large is approved.”
Hence, the Chief Justice said that he hopes that the law, also referred to as Senate Bill No. 1681 and was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last September, could address the problem by assigning judges-at-large to handle cases at the station where there are no judges. He added that the 20 percent vacancy problem will be solved once the budget for the 100 judges-at-large is approved.
The primary objective of the bill, which was proposed by Gordon during the 17th Congress, is to address the increasing number of pending trials in courts and to solve the congestion of court dockets through the creation of 100 Regional Trial Court judges-at-large positions and 50 Municipal Trial Court positions.
In a previous privilege speech, the veteran legislator said that “the congestion of our courts’ dockets deprives the courts of time. Judges need time to study, analyze and research to come up with good, reasonable decisions. The quality of justice is therefore adversely affected by the congestion of our courts’ dockets. There are not enough courts or judges to meet the demands of our countrymen.”
The bill also aims to address the delay in the disposition cases due to overloading of cases assigned per judge. As the seasoned lawmaker pointed out, there are so many cases to be heard but very few judges are deciding on the cases.
“Declogging court dockets will help decongest jails in penitentiaries.”
The senator also emphasized that declogging court dockets will help decongest jails in penitentiaries. As of September 18 this year, the total capacity of various prisons under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is only 12,299, but the total population of persons deprived of liberty (PDL) in these penitentiaries is 47,354, resulting to 285% congestion rate.
According to the bill, the Regional and Municipal Trial Court judges-at-large positions that will be created may be filled or left vacant depending on the needs of trial court judges as determined by the SC.
This measure, as he explained, will allow the SC to assign the judges-at-large to courts with the most clogged dockets.
“It is high time for the government to add judges where statistics clearly prove they are needed. Courts are deeply embedded in every aspect of our country’s society, economy and governance. They are very important in enabling and ennobling the lives of our countrymen,” Gordon stressed.