In the News: High-profile cases and the rule on sub judice

The past months have seen a number of controversial cases pending before the Supreme Court figure prominently in the media.  These include the Maguindanao massacre, President Aquino’s Executive Order No. 1 (creating the Truth Commission to investigate allegations of graft and corruption against the Arroyo administration) and Executive Order No. 2 (revoking “midnight appointments” of the Arroyo administration), the plagiarism charges leveled against Supreme Court Justice Mariano del Castillo by the members of the Faculty of the UP College of Law, and the acquittal of the accused in the Vizconde massacre case.  In some of these cases, the various parties involved resorted to the media to air their respective sides, and seemed to be litigating before the court of public opinion.

Does exposing a pending case to extensive media scrutiny violate the sub judice rule?

The sub judice rule is embodied in the broad language of Rule 71, Section 3(d) of the Rules of Court.  That section provides that “[a]ny improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice” is punishable as indirect contempt.  As stated in the case of Romero, et al. v. Estrada, et al. (G.R. No. 174105, 2 April 2009), the rule “restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to judicial proceedings to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court, or obstructing the administration of justice.”   This rule applies not only to the parties to the case, but also to the public in general, including the media.

As stated in Nestle Philippines v. Sanchez (G.R. Nos. L-75209 & L-78791, 30 September 1987), the rationale for the rule is as follows:

[I]t is a traditional conviction of civilized society everywhere that courts and juries, in the decision of issues of fact and law should be immune from every extraneous influence; that facts should be decided upon evidence produced in court; and that the determination of such facts should be uninfluenced by bias, prejudice or sympathies. (Underscoring supplied.)

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