Supreme Court issues new guidelines for Court-Annexed Mediation and Judicial Dispute Resolution in civil cases
The Supreme Court recently issued A.M. No. 19-10-SC or the Guidelines for the Conduct of Court-Annexed Mediation (“CAM”) and Judicial Dispute Resolution (“JDR”) in Civil Cases (“Guidelines”) dated 09 February 2021 in view of the amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure which became effective in May 2020.
CAM and JDR are confidential mediation or conciliation processes in civil cases that are conducted among disputing parties under the supervision of the court after the latter has acquired jurisdiction of the dispute. These are generally conducted during or after the pre-trial or preliminary conference but before the case proceeds to trial.
The purpose of CAM and JDR is to encourage the parties to amicably settle their disputes or reach a compromise agreement to avoid protracted and costly litigation. The parties, however, are not compelled to settle their dispute during the mediation or conciliation as such decision is purely voluntary on their part, but they are “expected to negotiate in good faith and exert earnest efforts towards settlement” (Guidelines, Chapter 1, Sec. 2).
Under Section 1 of the Guidelines, it is mandatory to refer the following civil cases to CAM:
- All ordinary civil cases, including mediatable permissive or compulsory counterclaim or cross-claim as pleaded in the answer, complaint-in-intervention, and third (fourth, etc.)-party complaint, except those which cannot be the subject of a compromise under Article 2035 of the New Civil Code;
- All special civil actions, except under Rules 63, 64, 65, 66, and 71 of the Rules of Court;
- Special proceedings cases for settlement of estate where the dispute involves claims against the estate, or the distribution or partition of estate in intestate proceedings;
- All those cases involving issues under the Family Code and other laws, in relation to support, custody, visitation, property relations, guardianship of minor children, and other issues which can be the subject of a compromise agreement;
- Intellectual property cases;
- Commercial or intra-corporate controversies;
- Environmental cases, subject to the provisions in Section 3, Rule 3 of the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases (A.M. No. 09-6-8- SC); and
- Civil cases covered by the Rule on Summary Procedure.
On the other hand, the following civil cases may be referred to JDR:
- The cases enumerated in Section 1, except environmental cases, may be referred to JDR upon failure of settlement or refusal to mediate in CAM only if the judge of the court to which the case was originally filed is convinced that settlement is still possible;
- The following cases, brought on appeal from the exclusive and original jurisdiction granted to the first-level courts under the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, may be referred to JDR in areas declared as JDR sites, if the RTC Judge is convinced that settlement is still possible;
- all civil cases and settlement of estate, testate and intestate;
- all cases of forcible entry and unlawful detainer;
- all civil cases involving title to, or possession of, real property or an interest therein; and
- habeas corpus cases decided by the first level court in the absence of the any Regional Trial Court Judge.
(Guidelines, Chapter 1, Sec. 2)
In addition to the civil cases cited above, the Guidelines also allows either or both of the parties “in actions or proceedings where compromise is not prohibited by law,” to request the court, “by oral manifestation or written motion after the pre-trial/preliminary conference, or at any stage of the proceedings,” to refer their dispute to CAM and JDR if there are still factual issues to be resolved (Guidelines, Chapter 1, Sec. 3).
How Court-Annexed Mediation is conducted
After the pre-trial/preliminary conference, the court shall issue the Pre-Trial/Preliminary Conference Order referring the parties to the mandatory CAM and shall direct the parties to proceed and personally appear at the Philippine Mediation Center Unit (“PMCU”) for mediation proceedings (Guidelines, Chapter 2 (A), Sec. 1).
During the initial appearance of the counsels and parties on the date set by the PMCU, and after presenting proof that mediation fees were paid, the parties shall select a mutually acceptable mediator among the roster of mediators at the PMCU (Guidelines, Chapter 2(B), Secs. 2-4). If they are unable to jointly select a common mediator, the PMCU shall choose the mediator among its available mediators (Guidelines, Chapter 2(B), Secs. 2-4).
The mediation must be completed within thirty (30) calendar days from the date of the order referring the case to CAM without further extension (Guidelines, Chapter 2(B), Sec. 8). In the event of successful settlement, the PMCU shall submit to the referring judge a Mediator’s Report together with a copy of the compromise agreement. The referring judge shall evaluate the compromise agreement and either approve or disapprove the same, or ask for clarification of any vague, defective, or unenforceable portion of the agreement that must be amended by the parties (Guidelines, Chapter 2(B), Secs. 10).
If no settlement was reached, the PMCU shall submit a Mediator’s Report and the “referring judge shall determine, in the hearing set for such purpose, if settlement is still possible” and if determined to be so, shall refer the case to the JDR Judge for JDR proceeding (Guidelines, Chapter 2(C), Sec. 1).
How Judicial Dispute Resolution is conducted
It is the JDR Judge, who has undergone skill-based training in JDR, who is authorized to conduct the JDR proceeding (Guidelines, Chapter 2(C), Secs. 3-4.). The JDR proceeding “shall be terminated within a non-extendible period of fifteen (15) calendar days from receipt of the [referral order]” (Guidelines, Chapter 2(C), Sec. 3).
The parties and their counsels shall likewise appear on the scheduled date for the JDR, and during the proceeding, the JDR judge shall act as “mediator, conciliator, and/or neutral evaluator to actively assist and facilitate negotiations among the parties” (Guidelines, Chapter 2(C), Sec. 5).
If full settlement is reached by the parties, they “shall draft a compromise agreement, which shall be submitted to the JDR Judge for judgment upon compromise, enforceable upon execution” (Guidelines, Chapter 2(C), Sec. 7). If only partial settlement is reached, the parties shall “submit the terms [of the partial settlement] for the approval of the JDR Judge and rendition of judgment upon partial compromise”, but the unsettled part of the dispute shall proceed to trial (Guidelines, Chapter 2(C), Sec. 7). However, if no settlement was reached in the JDR, the JDR judge shall return the case to the judge for appropriate action.
Imposable Sanctions in case of Non-Appearance in CAM and JDR
For both CAM and JDR, the parties and their respective counsels shall personally appear before the mediator or JDR Judge, otherwise sanctions may be imposed upon any party who fails to appear before the mediator or JDR Judge.
Under the Guidelines, the trial court shall impose the following sanctions:
- dismissal of the case, when there is failure of the plaintiff and counsel to appear without valid cause when so required; or
- ex parte presentation of plaintiff’s evidence and dismissal of defendant’s counterclaim when there is failure of the defendant and counsel to appear without valid cause when so required.
(Guidelines, Chapter 2(D), Sec. 4).
The new Guidelines took effect on 01 March 2021 following its publication in two (2) newspapers of general circulation.