The Supreme Court (SC) has deferred until next year implementation of the rule on mandatory legal aid service that would require practicing lawyers to render a minimum of 60 hours of free legal aid services to indigent litigants yearly.
The High Tribunal’s decision was prompted by the absence of implementing rules that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) should have submitted to the court for approval before the rule’s supposed implementation on July 1.
The final draft should have been submitted not later than May 15 to the IBP Board of Governors for approval, while the approved final draft of the IBP Board of Governors should have been submitted not later than May 25 for the final approval of the court.
The High Tribunal temporarily moved its implementation to January 1, 2010 provided that the IBP could come up with the implementing rules and regulations and published the same prior to the said date.
In an en banc resolution, the SC also directed the IBP Board of Governors to finish the draft implementing rules as soon as possible and submit them to the court for its approval.
Also, it directed the IBP to submit its comment on the rule itself, particularly on the concerns that rendition of free legal aid service should be voluntary and that the rule will spawn litigations and clog court dockets and other related concerns.
IBP National President Feliciano Bautista, in his letter dated June 19, 2009, informed the High Court that the draft implementing regulations of the rule have been prepared, but some IBP chapters have requested deferment of its implementation to afford the chapters more time to consult their members and allow wider discussion on a number of important issues pertinent to the rule.
The implementing regulations are supposed to provide guidelines for the proper and orderly enforcement of the rule, as well as to address the operational and other administrative concerns raised by lawyers and lawyers’ organizations.
The SC approved the rule on February 10. The rule is aimed at enhancing “the duty of lawyers to society as agents of social change and to the courts as officers thereof by helping improve access to justice by the less privileged members of society and expedite the resolution of cases involving them.”
Under the rule, a practicing lawyer, among others, shall coordinate with the Clerk of Court or the Legal Aid Chairman of one’s Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) chapter for cases where the lawyer may render free legal aid service. The 60 hours shall be spread within 12 months, with a minimum of five hours of free legal aid services each month. A practicing lawyer shall also be required to secure and obtain a certificate from the Clerk of Court attesting to the number of hours spent rendering free legal aid services in a case.
At the end of every calendar year, any practicing lawyer who fails to meet the minimum prescribed 60 hours of legal aid service each year shall be required by the IBP, through the National Committee on Legal Aid (NCLA), to explain why the lawyer was unable to render the minimum prescribed hours. The NCLA shall make a report and recommendation to declare a lawyer “not in good standing” if a lawyer fails to give an explanation for said failure or the NCLA finds the explanation unsatisfactory.
The “not in good standing” declaration shall be effective for three months from the receipt of the erring lawyer of the notice from the IBP Board of Governors. During the period, the lawyer cannot appear in court or any quasi-judicial body as counsel.
The IBP Committee on Bar Discipline shall motu proprio institute disciplinary proceedings on a lawyer who fails to comply with one’s duties under the rule for at least three consecutive years.
Membership in the IBP, the national organization of lawyers, is mandatory for all lawyers. Not all lawyers are covered by the rule, which defines a practicing lawyer as a member of the Philippine Bar who appears for and in behalf of parties in courts of law and quasi-judicial agencies, including but not limited to the National Labor Relations Commission, National Conciliation and Mediation Board, Department of Labor and Employment Regional Offices, Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board and National Commission for Indigenous Peoples.
The term “practicing lawyers” excludeds government employees and incumbent elective officials not allowed by law to practice; lawyers who by law are not allowed to appear in court; supervising lawyers of students enrolled in law student practice in duly accredited legal clinics of law schools and lawyers of non-governmental organizations and peoples’ organizations like the Free Legal Assistance Group who by the nature of their work already render free legal aid to indigent and pauper litigants and lawyers who are employed in the private sector, but do not appear for and in behalf of parties in courts of law and quasi-judicial agencies. — William Depasupil, Manila Times