By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The right to an impartial trial
posted 16-Aug-2015  ·  
4,932 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Sec.14 [2], Art. III of the 1987 Constitution guarantees to an accused the right, among other things, “to have a speedy, impartial, and public trial”. At times, other constitutional guarantees and the fundamental rights of the accused, along with the constitutional power of a court to control its proceedings in ensuring a fair and impartial trial race against one another. In such instances, jurisprudence tells us that the right of the accused must be preferred to win. With the possibility of losing not only the precious liberty but also the very life of an accused, it behooves all to make absolutely certain that an accused receives a verdict solely on the basis of a just and dispassionate judgment, a verdict that would come only after the presentation of credible evidence testified to by unbiased witnesses unswayed by any kind of pressure, whether open or subtle, in proceedings that are devoid of histrionics that might detract from its basic aim to ferret veritable facts free from improper influence, and decreed by a judge with an unprejudiced mind, unbridled by running emotions or passions.

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Municipal, City and Regional Trial Courts, are the real faces of the judiciary which the people see everyday. These courts must always be perceived to be impartial. For instance, in order to protect the people’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures, the bill of rights also provide that a search or arrest warrant shall particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. When the warrant is given to the police for implementation, the function of the judge is suspended, and springs to life again when the return on the search or arrest warrant is submitted to him. Judges violate their duty by actively participating in the implementation of the warrant issued by him though cellphone calls or other means, telling the police who to arrest or what to seize,  considering that these matters are already particularly described in the warrant. The implementation of said warrants is an executive (police) function. Judges who also act as police officers are thereby openly prostituting their proper functions as impartial arbiters. When life, liberty, and property are in question there must be in every instance judicial proceedings, and that the requirement implies a written accusation and hearing before an impartial tribunal with proper jurisdiction, an opportunity to defend and a conviction and a judgment before punishment can be inflicted, depriving one of his life, liberty or property. Such have been the views of able jurists and statesmen, and the deduction is that life, liberty, and property are placed under the protection of known and established principles which can not be dispensed with either generally or specially, either by the courts or executive officers or by the legislative department of the Government itself.

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In a government of separate and independent departments, executive, legislative, and judicial, with separate and distinct functions, one department should not attempt to interfere with the performance of the exclusive duties of another. To permit such an interference would destroy the independence of the separate departments and would make one subject to the control of the others.  For the judiciary to interfere, for the purpose of questioning the manner of exercising the legal and political duties of the executive department of the Government or to control the action of the legislative department, would, in effect, destroy the independence of the departments subject to the ultimate control of the judicial. Such a conclusion or condition was never contemplated by the organizers of the Government.

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In a case tried by the CFI of Abra (now RTC) , three persons were charged with murder, the first as principal, the second and third as accessories after the fact. As the first two were not apprehended, trial proceeded with respect to the third. In acquitting this accused, the trial court stated, in part: "It is worthy to state, however, that the offense of murder was clearly established and was committed by… [the first accused who was not yet apprehended] , from the evidence on record, there is no showing that … [the third accused who was tried] … is an accessory after the fact.” Subsequent to the acquittal of the third accused, the principal suspect surrendered and later was arraigned before the same branch of the court.  After having pleaded "not guilty" to the charge, and before the prosecution started to present its evidence, counsel for accused moved that the trial Judge inhibit himself from hearing the case on its merits on the grounds -- "(1) that the respondent had the chance to pass upon the issue and has formed an opinion as to who committed the crime of murder; (2) that it would not be fair that he would sit, hear and pass judgment; and (3) that the respondent is no longer impartial," and prayed that the case be transferred to another branch of the same Court. On being required to comment, the Solicitor General did so, and, citing jurisprudence, opined "that it would be in the best interest of justice and in keeping with the clear intendment and pronouncements of the Honorable Court that the case should be tried anew by another judge and that the respondent Judge should desist from further taking cognizance of the case."

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When the inhibition case reached the Supreme Court, the highest court held that a judge has the duty not only to render a just and impartial decision, but also render it in such a manner as to be free from any suspicion as to its fairness and impartiality, and also as to the judge's integrity. It said that while the respondent judge's capacity to render a just and impartial decision not doubted, his statement in the decision acquitting the third accused because that the "crime was committed by …[the first accused who was not yet apprehended at that time] … "renders it impossible for said judge to be free from the suspicion that in deciding petitioner's case, respondent will be biased and prejudiced.”  The Supreme Court then concluded that under these circumstances petitioner has the right to have his case decided by another Judge.

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CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: If a judge has already formed an opinion on the guilt or innocence of a suspect, such as when – without any warrant of arrest – the judge verbally orders the police to arrest a person upon the ground that the same person is in constructive possession of a prohibited substance, the accused has the right to have his case decided by another judge. In this regard, although there are two branches of the RTC in our province (Branches 42 and 43), there is only one presiding judge. Although cases filed continue to be raffled to the two branches, the same is illusory because there is only one sitting judge. It is believed that the first step to the realization of the dream of an impartial magistrate in our province is to have the two branches occupied by different judges. What is the leadership of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Catanduanes Chapter, doing about the continued absence of the presiding judge of Branch 42? And what is the PNP in Catanduanes doing about reports of continued interference by a judge in police matters? 

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