By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The right to speedy trial
posted 3-Aug-2015  ·  
8,323 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

The right to a speedy trial traces its roots to twelfth-century England, when the Assize of Clarendon declared that justice must be provided to robbers, murderers, and thieves "speedily enough." In our country, one characteristically Filipino trait we are not exactly proud of is the habit of procrastination and delay. Understandably so when "Filipino Time", “Mamaya na" and "Saka na, bahala na" translate into all kinds of manifestation of inefficiency in government such as red tape and bureaucratic fiascos. Delivery of government services nationwide suffers from constant delays and the judiciary is no exception. Almost every litigant we know has experienced delay in one form or another. As to how such incidents affect the overall perception of the courts' functioning depends on the extent of resources of the parties and length of time it took for their dispute to be finally resolved. Delays in the justice system elicit a host of reactions, from the humorous to the traumatic.

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Thus, the guarantee of a speedy trial is one of the most basic rights preserved by our Constitution. An accused's right to "have a speedy, impartial, and public trial" is guaranteed in criminal cases by Section 14(2) of Article III of the Constitution.  The provision is an important safeguard to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial, to minimize anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and to limit the possibility that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself. The passage of time alone may lead to the loss of witnesses through death or other reasons and the blurring of memories of available witnesses.  Too, the Speedy Trial Clause was designed to prevent defendants from languishing in jail for an indefinite period before trial, to minimize the time in which a defendant's life is disrupted and burdened by the anxiety and scrutiny accompanying public criminal proceedings, and to reduce the chances that a prolonged delay before trial will impair the ability of the accused to prepare a defense. The longer the commencement of a trial is postponed, courts have observed, the more likely it is that witnesses will disappear, that evidence will be lost or destroyed, and that memories will fade.

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The old legal maxim, "justice delayed is justice denied" requires the expeditious resolution of disputes, much more so in criminal cases where an accused is constitutionally guaranteed the right to a speedy trial. It is unfair for an accused to remain in jail, denied of his constitutional right to bail, because it takes the court too long to decide his guilt or innocence. It is also unfair for the injured party to have to sustain the injury with little hope for resolution. The phrase has become a rallying cry for some legal reformers who view courts or governments as acting too slowly in resolving legal issues either because the existing system is too complex or overburdened, or because the issue or party in question lacks political favor.

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"Speedy trial" is a relative term and necessarily a flexible concept. In determining whether the right of the accused to a speedy trial was violated, the delay should be considered, in view of the entirety of the proceedings.  Indeed, mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved would not suffice as the realities of everyday life must be regarded in judicial proceedings which, after all, do not exist in a vacuum. More than a decade after the 1972 leading U.S. case of Barker v. Wingo was promulgated, the Philippine Supreme Court, in Martin v. Ver, began adopting the "balancing test" to determine whether a defendant's right to a speedy trial has been violated.  As this test necessarily compels the courts to approach speedy trial cases on an ad hoc basis, the conduct of both the prosecution and defendant are weighed apropos the four-fold factors, to wit: (1) length of the delay; (2) reason for the delay; (3) defendant's assertion or non-assertion of his right; and (4) prejudice to defendant resulting from the delay. None of these elements, however, is either a necessary or sufficient condition; they are related and must be considered together with other relevant circumstances.  These factors have no talismanic qualities as courts must still engage in a difficult and sensitive balancing process.

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A distinguished son of our province, ex-senator Francisco S. Tatad had once  sought shelter under this constitutionally guranteed right to speedy trial. In his case, the Supreme Court said that substantial adherence to the requirements of the law governing the conduct of preliminary investigation, including substantial compliance with the time limitation prescribed by the law for the resolution of the case by the prosecutor, is part of the procedural due process constitutionally guaranteed by the fundamental law. Not only under the broad umbrella of the due process clause, but under the constitutional guarantee of "speedy disposition" of cases as embodied in Section 16 of the Bill of Rights (both in the 1973 and the 1987 Constitutions), the inordinate delay is violative of the petitioner's constitutional rights.

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Sadly, there are still many detention prisoners languishing in jail because, among other things, of the failure of our courts to promptly try their cases. The rights of the accused notwithstanding, it has been said that “there is a societal interest in providing a speedy trial which exists separate from and at times in opposition to the interests of the accused.” xxx “The longer an accused is free awaiting trial, the more tempting becomes his opportunity to jump bail and escape", and that "delay between arrest and punishment may have a detrimental effect on rehabilitation." Also, if the accused cannot make bail, that too can make rehabilitation difficult, that a lengthy pre-trial detention can be costly, and that “society loses wages which might have been earned, and it must often support families of incarcerated breadwinners." Persons in jail must be supported at considerable public expense and often families must be assisted as well. Especially when whole families, including elderly parents, are arrested together with an adult child still living with them who is suspected of using prohibited drugs, upon the flimsy excuse that they should know what their adult child is doing inside their home. Worse, the cases usually filed against those parents are non-bailable, meaning, the parents remain in jail in the meantime that their cases are being tried – till kingdom come.

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CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: Speedy trial must always be impartial or fair because fairness is the hallmark of due process. We must have a judiciary that deserves the support and confidence of the people because, as succinctly stated by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, “the only capital of the judiciary (is) the integrity of the system. If you lose this capital, you lose the system."  The presiding judge, being the physical representation of the idea or concept of an honest, impartial and learned judiciary, must be perceived by the people to be so.

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