SC: Judges must appear to be impartial
Talk about selective amnesia.
Two months before rendering its unprecedented decision booting out Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from the judiciary, the Supreme Court put all judges on notice that they “must not only be impartial, but must also appear to be impartial” in handing down their rulings.
The high tribunal issued the reminder on March 6 when it dismissed Judge Winlove Dumayas of Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 59 for arbitrarily downgrading the sentence of two men who killed US Marine Maj. George Anikow in 2012.
Basic judicial principle
Six of the 13 justices who unanimously found Dumayas guilty of flouting this basic judicial principle — Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Noel Tijam, Samuel Martires and Francis Jardeleza — had refused to inhibit themselves from hearing the quo warranto petition which Solicitor General Jose Calida brought to remove Sereno.
The court’s decision on Dumayas did not identify its ponente (author) since it was a per curiam (by the court) ruling.
But two court insiders said it was actually penned by Peralta, who first suggested that Sereno’s designation as Chief Justice in 2012 could be regarded as “void ab initio” (from the start) for her failure to submit at least 10 of her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Peralta’s legal opinion prompted Calida to initiate the expulsion of Sereno, who became the first constitutional officer ousted not through an impeachment process as spelled out in the 1987 Constitution.
“Under Canon 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, impartiality applies not only to the decision itself, but also to the process by which the decision is made,” the high court stressed in booting out Dumayas.
“The court has repeatedly and consistently held that the judge must not only be impartial, but must also appear to be impartial as an added assurance to the parties that his decision will be just,” it added.
‘They must trust the judge’
The magistrates said litigants like Sereno were “entitled to no less than that” while their cases were being heard by the courts.
“They should be sure that when their rights are violated, they can go to a judge who shall give them justice. They must trust the judge, otherwise they will not go to him at all,” they said.
The justices said litigants “must believe in [the judge’s] sense of fairness, otherwise they will not seek his judgment.”
However, six of the 15-member Supreme Court may have forgotten their own reminder when they threw out Sereno’s separate petitions demanding their recusal from deliberations on the quo warranto petition.