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3. Impartiality

Canon 3: Impartiality

Impartiality is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office. It applies not only to the decision itself but also to the process by which the decision is made.

1) Impartiality, aspects

The 2 aspects of impartiality:

1) Decision

2) Process

Impartiality is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office. It applies not only to “the decision itself but also to the process by which the decision is made.” (Edaño v. Asdala, A.M. No. RTJ-06-1974, 26 July 2007)

2) Be impartial and also appear impartial

Well-known is the judicial norm that “judges should not only be impartial but should also appear impartial.” Jurisprudence repeatedly teaches that litigants are entitled to nothing less than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge. The other elements of due process, like notice and hearing, would become meaningless if the ultimate decision is rendered by a partial or biased judge. Judges must not only render just, correct and impartial decisions, but must do so in a manner free of any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality and integrity. (Sison-Barias v. Rubia, supra.)

3) Cold neutrality, a matter of due process

Due process of law requires a hearing before an impartial and disinterested tribunal, and that every litigant is entitled to nothing less than the cold neutrality of an impartial Judge. (Castillo v. Juan, G.R. Nos. L-39516-17, 28 January 1975)

The Supreme Court has repeatedly and consistently demanded ‘the cold neutrality of an impartial judge’ as the indispensable imperative of due process. To bolster that requirement, we have held that the judge must not only be impartial but must also appear to be impartial as an added assurance to the parties that his decision will be just. The litigants are entitled to no less than that. They should be sure that when their rights are violated they can go to a judge who shall give them justice. They must trust the judge, otherwise they will not go to him at all. They must believe in his sense of fairness, otherwise they will not seek his judgment. Without such confidence, there would be no point in invoking his action for the justice they expect. (Lai v. People, G.R. No. 175999, 01 July 2015)

a) Prejudgment

On two separate occasions, in the secrecy of his chambers respondent-judge informed petitioners of the weakness of their cases, the likelihood of a verdict of acquittal in favor of the accused, and impressed upon them that it would be to their advantage to settle, as the most he could do on their behalf was to have such accused indemnify them. This move, according to him, would assure their being spared from the embarrassment occasioned by suits of this character, clearly prejudicial to their future. These conversations took place even before the prosecution had finished presenting its evidence, one of the petitioners not having testified as yet. After such conferences, they could no longer be expected to have faith in his impartiality. Even before they had been fully heard, they were told that their cases were weak. They could very well conclude then that there was a prejudgment. Under the circumstances, the fact that he acted as he did because any monetary settlement would benefit petitioners, considering their straitened financial circumstances, was of no moment. Even if it be admitted that, according to his best lights, respondent Judge acted from a sense of sympathy or “charity”, his conduct cannot be said to be consonant with the exacting standard of the cold neutrality of an impartial judge. (Castillo v. Juan, supra.)

Section 1: Judges shall perform their judicial duties without favor, bias or prejudice.

1) Notatu dignum, substantial evidence

Notatu dignum is the presumption of regularity in the performance of a judge’s functions, hence bias, prejudice and even undue interest cannot be presumed, specially weighed against a judge’s sacred allegation under oath of office to administer justice without respect to any person and do equal right to the poor and to the rich. (Calo v. Abul, A.M. No. RTJ-06-1996, 25 July 2006)

2) Clear and convincing evidence, required

There is no basis for the imputation of bias and partiality on respondent judge. In a litany of cases decided by this Court, it was held that while bias and prejudice, have been recognized as ground for disqualification, the well-established rule is that mere suspicion is not enough. Bare allegations of bias are not enough in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption that the judge will undertake his noble role to dispense justice according to law and evidence and without fear or favor. (People v. Kho, G.R. No. 139381, 20 April 2001)

Section 2: Judges shall ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants in the impartiality of the judge and of the judiciary.

1) Unethical to talk with litigants outside court proceedings

The respondent-judge committed impropriety in talking with litigants outside court proceedings. His improper conduct was further aggravated by the fact that these conversations took place in the absence of the opposing litigants and/or the opposing counsel. (Sy v. Dinopol, En Banc, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2189, 18 January 2011)

Employees of the court have no business meeting with litigants or their representatives under any circumstance. Such unethical conduct constitutes “a brazen and outrageous betrayal of public trust.” (Ibid.)

Section 3: Judges shall, so far as is reasonable, so conduct themselves as to minimize the occasions on which it will be necessary for them to be disqualified from hearing or deciding cases.

1) No transactions with party-litigants

Respondent-judge violated the above provisions when he received accommodations from Sy (a party-litigant) for the building materials he needed for the construction of his house. He compromised his position as a judge. Although at the time he and his family had business dealings with Sy there was no pending case involving the businessman, he should have been more circumspect in securing the construction materials. The sphere of Sy’s business operations was within his territorial jurisdiction. (Ibid.)

2) Motion to inhibit

Mere imputation of bias or partiality is not enough ground for judges to inhibit, especially when the charge is without basis. (Sunico v. Gutierrez, En Banc, A.M. No. RTJ-16-2457, 21 February 2017)

While a party has the right to seek the inhibition or disqualification of a judge who does not appear to be wholly free, disinterested, impartial, and independent in handling the case, this right must be weighed with her duty to decide cases without fear or pressure. (Villamor v. Manalastas, G.R. No. 171247, 22 July 2015)

NB: See related discussions on compulsory and voluntary inhibition.

a) Requires proof or basis

A perusal of the records of the case fails to reveal that any bias or prejudice motivated Judge Eugenio in issuing the Writ of Preliminary Injunction in favor of respondent or in dismissing petitioner’s Complaint. Neither did this Court find any questionable or suspicious circumstances leading to the issuance of those Orders, as suggested by petitioner. (Pagoda v. Universal Canning, G.R. No. 160996, 11 October 2005)

Section 4: Judges shall not knowingly, while a proceeding is before or could come before them, make any comment that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of such proceeding or impair the manifest fairness of the process. Nor shall judges make any comment in public or otherwise that might affect the fair trial of any person or issue.

1) No transactions with party-litigants

1) Sub judice rule

The rule on sub judice applies to judges as well. Notably, when Judge Paredes discussed the marriage scams involving Judge Tormis in 2010, the investigation relative to the said case had not yet been concluded. In fact, the decision on the case was promulgated by the Court only on April 2, 2013.24 In 2010, he still could not make comments on the administrative case to prevent any undue influence in its resolution. Commenting on the marriage scams, where Judge Tormis was one of the judges involved, was in contravention of the sub judice rule. Justice Diy was, therefore, correct in finding that Judge Paredes violated Section 4, Canon 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct. (Tormis v. Paredes, A.M. No. RTJ-13-2366, 04 February 2015)

NB: See related discussions on sub judice rule.

Section 5: Judges shall disqualify themselves from participating in any proceedings in which they are unable to decide the matter impartially or in which it may appear to a reasonable observer that they are unable to decide the matter impartially. Such proceedings include, but are not limited to, instances where (a) The judge has actual bias or prejudice concerning a party or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceedings; (b) The judge previously served as a lawyer or was a material witness in the matter in controversy; (c) The judge, or a member of his or her family, has an economic interest in the outcome of the matter in controversy; (d) The judge served as executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or lawyer in the case or matter in controversy, or a former associate of the judge served as counsel during their association, or the judge or lawyer was a material witness therein; (e) The judge’s ruling in a lower court is the subject of review; (f) The judge is related by consanguinity or affinity to a party litigant within the sixth civil degree or to counsel within the fourth civil degree; or (g) The judge knows that his or her spouse or child has a financial interest, as heir, legatee, creditor, fiduciary, or otherwise, in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceedings.

Section 6: A judge disqualified as stated above may, instead of withdrawing from the proceeding, disclose on the records the basis of disqualification. If, based on such disclosure, the parties and lawyers, independently of the judge’s participation, all agree in writing that the reason for the inhibition is immaterial or unsubstantial, the judge may then participate in the proceeding. The agreement, signed by all parties and lawyers, shall be incorporated in the record of the proceedings.

1) Related to disqualification

NB: See discussion on compulsory and voluntary disqualification.

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