The promise of speedy disposition of civil cases

When deciding whether or not to go to court for judicial action or remedy, the main concerns can be summarized as follows: (1) the length of time to finish the case, (2) the chances of winning, and (3) the cost of litigation. In my opinion, the 2019 Amendments to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure and the 2020 Guidelines for the Conduct of Court-Annexed Mediation (CAM) and Judicial Dispute Resolution (JDR) in Civil Cases, which took effect on May 1, 2020 and March 1, 2021, respectively, addresses these concerns. The Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) defines CAM as a voluntary process conducted under the auspices of the court, wherein the parties are referred to the Philippine Mediation Center Unit (PMCU) for the settlement of their dispute, assisted by a Mediator accredited by the Supreme Court. JDR, on the other hand, is a process whereby a JDR judge employs conciliation, mediation or early neutral evaluation of the case.

The 2020 Guidelines for CAM and JDR in Civil Cases provides the specific cases covered by the mandatory CAM and those that may be referred to JDR. Generally, these are cases that could be the subject of a compromise and where compromise is not prohibited by law nor contrary to morals, good customs, public order or public policy.

In practice, lawsuits may take years (give or take five years, at the earliest, to over 10 years if appealed up to the Supreme Court) to conclude. Fortunately, based on the mandatory timeline provided under the 2020 Guidelines for CAM and JDR, such cases can be concluded in a matter of months in case of a successful CAM or JDR.

Pursuant to the rules and guidelines, a notice of pre-trial must be issued within five calendar days after the last responsive pleading was served and filed, setting the pre-trial not later than 60 calendar days from the filing of the pleading. For cases covered by Summary Procedure, the preliminary conference must be set not later than 30 calendar days from the filing of the last responsive pleading.

After the pre-trial/preliminary conference, and the issues have been consolidated, the court will refer the parties to a CAM, subject to some exemptions. The mediator has no more than 30 calendar days from the date of the order referring the case to CAM to complete the mediation process without further extension. If a settlement is reached, the PMCU will submit to the referring Judge the Mediator’s Report on the result of the proceedings with the copy of the compromise agreement and any attachments.

The referring Judge will evaluate the agreement and may either approve or disapprove it, or require its amendment. If found acceptable, a judgement will be issued, approving the compromise agreement and stating that the same was rendered through CAM (to distinguish it from judgments based on compromise agreements entered into during JDR).

In case of non-settlement, a Mediator’s Report stating the outcome (i.e., failed CAM or no CAM conducted) will be submitted to the referring Judge. Thereafter, in a hearing set for such purpose, the referring Judge will determine if a settlement is still possible, and if so convinced to be feasible, refers the case to a JDR Judge.

The JDR Judge is to conduct the JDR proceedings immediately upon receipt of the referral order. The proceedings will be conducted within a non-extendible period of 15 calendar days from the receipt of the referral order.

If the case is settled through JDR, the JDR Judge will accomplish a JDR Report and return the case to the referring Judge for appropriate action. If a full settlement is reached, the parties will submit a draft compromise agreement to the referring Judge for judgement upon compromise enforceable by execution. On the other hand, if there has been full compliance with the terms of the compromise agreement, the parties are instead to submit a satisfaction of the claims or a mutual withdrawal of the parties’ respective claims and counterclaims. The referring Judge will then issue an order declaring the case terminated.

If the case is not settled through the JDR process, the case will proceed to trial. On the other hand, if a partial settlement is reached, the parties will submit their terms to the referring Judge for approval and judgement on partial compromise, which may be enforced without waiting for the resolution of the unsettled part.

Cases which are on appeal from the exclusive and original jurisdiction of first-level courts may also be referred to the JDR if the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge is convinced that settlement is still possible. In the case of JDR on appeal, the RTC Judge has 15 calendar days to complete the JDR proceedings. This may be extended for another 15 days upon joint motion of the parties on the ground that settlement is likely to be concluded. If settlement is reached, the compromise agreement is to be submitted to the RTC judge for judgment upon compromise. Otherwise, the RTC Judge will declare the failure of the JDR and render a decision within the prescribed period.

The promise of a speedy disposition of civil cases is among the championed objectives of the 2019 Amendments to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure and the 2020 Guidelines for the CAM and JDR in Civil Cases. Through effective mediation, a successful CAM or JDR will expedite the disposition of civil cases. It may well be the panacea to our slow justice system. After all, when court dockets are congested, justice delayed is justice denied.

The views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Isla Lipana & Co. or Cabrera & Company. The content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for specific advice.

Maria Ysidra May Y. Kintanar-Lopez is a Manager at the Tax Services Department of Isla Lipana & Co. and a Senior Legal Advisor of Cabrera & Company, member firms of the PwC network.

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