Supreme Court of the Philippines

EXPLAINER: What’s disbarment and how can a lawyer get disbarred?

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

EXPLAINER: What’s disbarment and how can a lawyer get disbarred?
The High Court says that disbarment cases are neither criminal nor civil in nature, and are not 'intended to inflict penal or civil sanctions'

MANILA, Philippines – After his two prior suspensions, Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon was unanimously disbarred by the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, June 27, over his profanities spewed against journalist Raissa Robles.

The SC, in its announcement Wednesday, said Gadon’s video clip where he was cursing at Robles is “indisputably scandalous that it discredits the legal profession.”

Must Read

Larry Gadon unanimously disbarred by Supreme Court over misogynistic, sexist remarks

Larry Gadon unanimously disbarred by Supreme Court over misogynistic, sexist remarks

The High Court also said Gadon “failed to realize” that lawyers are expected to avoid scandalous behavior, whether in their public or private lives.

But what is the meaning of disbarment and how does a lawyer get disbarred?

What is disbarment?

An aspiring lawyer must first complete his/her law studies then pass the Bar Exams overseen by the High Court. After accomplishing these and other necessary requirements, he or she may be finally admitted to the bar.

However, when a lawyer commits certain acts that can gravely affect the legal profession, he/she can be disbarred.

  • Disbarment is an extreme measure that takes away a lawyer’s mandate to practice law.
  • A 2017 article by lawyer Lorna Kapunan said that when a lawyer gets disbarred, his/her name gets removed from the SC’s Roll of Attorneys, and loses the right to put the prefix “Atty.” before his/her name.
  • In its 2006 decision on Gonzalez vs. Alcaraz, the High Court explained that disbarment cases are sui generis – meaning they are unique or “of its own kind.” The SC explained that disbarment is neither criminal nor civil in nature, and is not “intended to inflict penal or civil sanctions.”
  • The SC, in the same decision, said the “main question” in disbarment cases is whether a lawyer is “still fit to continue to be an officer of the court in the dispensation of justice.”
  • In the Madria vs. Rivera case decided in 2017, the High Court said: “A lawyer who causes the simulation of court documents not only violates the court and its processes, but also betrays the trust and confidence reposed in him by his client and must be disbarred to maintain the integrity of the Law Profession.”
What are possible grounds?

The Rules of Court are the guidelines that govern the conduct of business in the country’s courts. Section 27 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, states the following as grounds for disbarment:

  • Deceit
  • Malpractice
  • Gross misconduct in office
  • Grossly immoral conduct
  • Conviction of a crime that involves moral turpitude
  • Violation of the lawyers’ oath
  • Willfully disobeying lawful orders of a superior court
  • Corruptly or willfully appearing as legal counsel for a camp without the authority to do so

The current set of SC justices led by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo had given emphasis on the importance of ethics in the law profession.

  • In Gadon’s case, the High Court noted that the disbarred lawyer violated Canon II (propriety) of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA) – the new code of conduct for lawyers.
  • Canon II or propriety states that [a] “lawyer shall, at all times, act with propriety and maintain the appearance of propriety in personal and professional dealings, observe honesty, respect and courtesy, and uphold the dignity of the legal profession consistent with the highest standards of ethical behavior.” 
  • The new CPRA, which replaced the 34-year-old Code of Professional Responsibility, listed 44 sections under Canon II that guide lawyers to uphold the dignity of the legal profession. Among the rules provided in the canon are lawyers’ proper conduct, formal decorum and appearance, sub-judice rule, and even responsible use of social media.
  • Lawyer Kristina Conti explained that the “the substance of the disbarment is from the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability, the new version of which recently took effect.”
  • “The Supreme Court has the power to regulate the practice of law, and the removal or suspension of lawyers, and the grounds are set under Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. Among them, gross misconduct, grossly immoral conduct, and other such unethical conduct,” Conti said.
What’s the process?

The disbarment process was laid down in Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court, as amended by the SC’s Bar Matter No. 1645 signed in 2015.

  • The SC may take the initiative to process a disbarment case against a lawyer motu proprio or on its own initiative. This means the disbarment case pushes through without the presence of a party that pushes for the case – just like in Gadon’s case where the High Court acted on its own initiative.
  • A disbarment case can also push through upon the filing of a complaint with the SC or the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the official organization of Filipino lawyers. The complaint shall state the facts complained about, with supporting affidavits and/or documents.
  • A disbarment proceeding can either happen at the SC or IBP.
  • The same rules also protect lawyers during disbarment or suspension cases because it is explicit that “proceedings against attorneys shall be private and confidential.” However, section 18 of Rule 139-B also states that the SC’s final order in cases like these shall be published like any other decision.
  • Section 30 of Rule 138 also states that no lawyer shall be removed or suspended from the legal practice until he/she “has had full opportunity upon reasonable notice to answer the charges against him, to produce witnesses in his own behalf, and to be heard by himself or counsel.”
Can disbarred lawyers be reinstated?

Disbarred lawyers can seek reinstatement through judicial clemency, according to various jurisprudence.

  • In Que vs. Revilla decided in 2014, the High Court said: “Thus, though the doors to the practice of law are never permanently closed on a disbarred attorney, the Court owes a duty to the legal profession as well as to the general public to ensure that if the doors are opened, it is done so only as a matter of justice.”
  • The court, in deciding whether to grant clemency on a petitioner, seeks to strike a balance between extending an act of mercy and preserving the public confidence in courts, retired senior associate justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe wrote in Nuñez vs. Ricafort and Llunar vs. Ricafort decided in 2021.
  • In the Nuñez, Llunar vs. Ricafort cases, the SC set the guidelines in applying for judicial clemency. Under the new rules, a disbarred lawyer cannot file for reinstatement through judicial clemency if five years have not passed since his/ her disbarment, unless there are “extraordinary circumstances.”
  • Upon the lapse of the five-year period or if permitted by the court, a lawyer becomes eligible to file for judicial clemency. The petitioner must show on the face of its petition that the criteria for judicial clemency have been met.
  • The criteria include full compliance with all the terms and conditions on prior disciplinary orders. The petitioner must also recognize “the wrongfulness and seriousness of the misconduct for which he or she was disbarred,” in effect, show remorse. Lastly, the disbarred lawyer also need to have “the requisite integrity and competence to practice law.” –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.