One of the most consequential reforms undertaken by the Catholic Church happened when it abandoned the Latin Mass in the 1960s and allowed local languages to be used in all masses. This was brought about by Vatican Council II that was convened by the Pope with the aim of improving church practices in order to make them relevant and understandable to the people.
Our Supreme Court needs its version of Vatican Council II in order to make its rulings relevant and understandable to the people.
When the Supreme Court comes out with a decision, its ruling doesn’t merely affect the two parties in the case, but impacts the lives of our country’s entire population of 110 million Filipinos, including those yet to be born. Supreme Court rulings are equivalent to laws passed by Congress. In fact, Supreme Court decisions are oftentimes even more powerful than laws, because of the high court’s power to choose the mandatory interpretation that will be assigned to the law’s words.
The stark reality, however, is that when the Supreme Court churns out a new decision, it functions as a wholesale manufacturer of a virtual commercial product which it supplies for free to a cottage industry of law practitioners. Lawyers then retail the Supreme Court-supplied “product” to ordinary people, for fat compensation. There’s little chance for common people to read and understand Supreme Court decisions by themselves, because they’re not written for the ordinary citizen. They are lengthy, laden with multiple issues, and full of archaic language. People are forced to go through gatekeepers (lawyers) who sort out Supreme Court decisions in order to find one that fits a particular person’s shoe size, so to speak.
What’s even more problematic is the fact that the Supreme Court has flip-flopped on certain matters that are crucial in people’s lives. One example are the rules and requirements for marriage to be nullified under the ground of “psychological incapacity.” From the time the Family Code became effective in 1988, the Supreme Court has rendered rulings that have modified, supplemented, and then again revised the applicable rules on the issue.
Because principles and interpretations emanating from jurisprudence may become modified over time, identifying the updated Supreme Court decision is equally difficult for lawyers and trial judges. Looking for the right Supreme Court decision that suits one’s case is like engaging in a treasure hunt. Law researchers resort to privately managed websites that post as reliable repositories of law and jurisprudence. In the age of disinformation, it may only be a matter of time when manipulators peddle twisted interpretations of the law and misrepresented Supreme Court decisions.
One option for the Supreme Court is to include in its website a portal that categorizes its decisions into subjects (e.g., political law, labor law, commercial law, remedial law, ethics, criminal law, and civil law). In each category, Supreme Court decisions that answer common legal problems relevant in ordinary people’s lives, and which constitute the bulk of court cases, should have a simplified and summarized presentation that’s understandable by common people. It may include rulings on marriage nullity, common law partnership, loan interest ceiling, bouncing check, ejectment, arrest, search and seizure, libel, drug raids, among others.
Another portal can house new Supreme Court decisions that modify previous principles or that set precedent-setting interpretations of a crucial law. This would be very useful for legal practitioners and trial judges who no longer have to engage in a wild goose chase of jurisprudence. Imagine the amount of research time saved by judges, and the reduced billable hours that litigants pay. Such a portal will also lessen mistakes by trial judges and prosecutors who may be prone to being misled by outdated jurisprudence. For sure, appellate justices have existing research that can give content to such a portal, and sharing them with the public may lessen appealed cases.
By making a portal that the masses can directly consult, the Supreme Court will dilute the reputation of the legal profession as a commercial monopoly, and emphasize its nature as a public service. It will shore up positive public perception of the Supreme Court, which has consistently ranked low in surveys, surely because people feel no connection with its workings.
The Supreme Court should reach out and communicate directly with the people. Otherwise, they risk being cast as a conclave of cardinals who broadcast the rituals of a Latin Mass high up in their ivory tower.
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