[ANALYSIS | Point of Law] The lawyer’s oath and frivolous cases

Francis Lim

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[ANALYSIS | Point of Law] The lawyer’s oath and frivolous cases
Our rules should be amended to expressly provide for personal liability on the part of the lawyer or law firm behind the filing of frivolous cases

Justice delayed is justice denied.

These 5 words embody what is perhaps the most frustrating facet of our legal system – the slow pace at which justice is dispensed. There are thousands of cases languishing in our courts, and more are added to the docket each day. This situation is caused, in no small part, by lawyers who file frivolous cases and engage in dilatory tactics. 

The Supreme Court takes this issue very seriously. In fact, it has manifested its policy against frivolous and dilatory submissions through various provisions in the Rules of Court itself. 

Sec. 3, Rule 7 of the Rules provides that “[the] signature of counsel constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief there is good ground to support it; and that it is not interposed for delay.”

The provision further declares that counsel who signs a pleading in violation of this Rule shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action. 

Also, Sec. 12 of Rule 8 provides that the court, upon motion, may order any pleading to be stricken out or that any sham or false, redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter be stricken out therefrom.

In addition, Sec. 3, Rule 142 states that where an action or appeal is found to be frivolous, double or treble costs may be imposed on the plaintiff or appellant, which shall be paid by his attorney, if so ordered by the court.

Case studies

In the cases of Pajares vs. Abad Santos (30 SCRA 748), Intestate Estate of Luis Domingo, Sr. vs Aquino (38 SCRA 472), and Gillego vs Diaz (39 SCRA 88), the High Court disciplined the petitioners’ respective counsels for filing frivolous appeals by ordering them to pay treble costs. In the case of Casals vs Cusi, Jr. (52 SCRA 58), respondent’s counsel was suspended for 3 months for unduly delaying the proceedings before the Court. 

Other jurisdictions have similar measures when it comes to dealing with lawyers who file frivolous actions and pleadings. 

For example, in Singapore, a party may move to strike out any pleading if: it discloses no reasonable cause of action or defense; it is scandalous, frivolous or vexatious; it may prejudice, embarrass, or delay the fair trial of the action; or it is otherwise an abuse of the process of the court.

Additionally, Rule 3.68 of the Alberta Rules of Court in Canada provides for a similar remedy of striking out pleadings, documents, and affidavits which are frivolous, irrelevant, or improper. 

In the United States, Rule 11 of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure expressly provides that a  lawyer, by presenting a pleading, motion, or other written paper, certifies to the court that it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation. If the court determines that the rule has been violated, it may impose an appropriate sanction on any attorney, law firm, or party that violated the rule or is responsible for the violation. Absent exceptional circumstances, a law firm is held jointly responsible for a violation committed by its partner, associate, or employee.

Rule 11 expressly provides that the sanction may include nonmonetary directives; an order to pay a penalty into court; or, if imposed on motion and warranted for effective deterrence, an order directing payment to the movant of part or all of the reasonable attorney’s fees and other expenses directly resulting from the violation.

Proposed changes

It is clear that frivolous and dilatory pleadings and submissions are an affliction which affect multiple jurisdictions. Ours is but one of many which struggle with these problems.

But there is hope. 

For a start, our Rules of Court should be amended to expressly provide for personal liability on the part of the  concerned lawyer and/or law firm.  Equally important is that our courts of law should enforce the provision. 

An express rule in clear and unequivocal terms, coupled with honest-to-goodness enforcement, will go a long way in unclogging the dockets of courts and speed up the dispensation of justice. 

We lawyers should have no cause to complain. After all, when we took the  lawyer’s oath, we swore that we “will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, or give aid nor consent to the same” and “will delay no man for money or malice.”

And this solemn duty we imposed on ourselves “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” – Rappler.com


The author, a senior partner of the ACCRALAW, is a trustee of the Judicial Reform Initiative, Inc. The views in this column are exclusively his. He may be contacted at francis.ed.lim@gmail.com.

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