Sereno warns jurists: forces harassing independent courts are at it again

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MANILA – Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday warned of the return of political forces that pose a threat to the independence of the judiciary, and continually harass the institution. She underscored the need for the judiciary to preserve its core values of independence, integrity and impartiality in fulfilling its duty to uphold the rule of law and human rights.

In her keynote address during the 8th International Conference on the Training of the Judiciary in Taguig City, she told magistrates, judges and lawyers from 28 countries that the threats to judicial independence are apparent in many parts of the globe.

Sereno is facing an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives, which is dominated by allies of President Duterte.

Sereno likened the apparent trend around the world these days, where threats to independent courts and jurists abound, to the olden days of empires, when monarchs demand that courts uphold the legality of their actions for these to assume moral legitimacy.

This trend is clear manifestation, said Sereno, that the credibility of the judiciary is something of value, which certain political forces covet or wish to use for their own twisted political purposes.

“Allow me to remind everyone that the world has been seeing in many regions a resurgence of political forces threatening and harassing the independence of the judiciary. We note that in troubled times in the past, kings would demand that courts would pronounce their acts as legal, not because kings did not have the physical force to impose their will, but rather, that kings wanted their acts to have the force of moral legitimacy, a legitimacy that many times was perceived to come from courts of law. It indicates to a certain extent, that the judiciary in those parts of the world, and in those times in history, had a measure of credibility that politicians wanted to appropriate, for whatever political purpose they deemed important,” the chief justice said in her address.

The judiciary, she stressed, must at all times remember to give proper value to the dignity and rights of people, adding that this can only be assured by courts and men of law who are unafraid of the challenges posed by changing political landscapes.

“The judiciary however, then and now, while needing to discharge its role in specific times and contexts, can only be a judiciary worthy of its name if its pronouncements are undergirded by core values that are rooted in its commitment to the dignity of the human being and the respect that such dignity commands.”

Sereno said “the judiciary must never forget the value of each human being while never forgetting that the community has interests that must be protected by reasonable restraints on the activities of individuals. The delicate balance required to properly evaluate conflicting positions and competing interests can only be sustained by a wise and mature judiciary that is unafraid to face the challenges of increasingly changing landscapes.”

Meanwhile, Sereno said the imperative of upholding rule of law was an absolute, adding that only the rule of law can ensure peace and progress, and the survival of humanity.

“Core values that uphold the dignity of the human being are what makes for the Rule of Law, and it is the Rule of Law that will allow human society to continue in a spirit of solidarity. The Rule of Law, in any time and in any context, will allow humanity to not only survive, but to flourish in peace and prosperity. It is my hope that we remember that the future of the human race, how well it survives and develops, is in large part, in the hands of the Judiciary.”

The international conference is running on the theme of strengthening judicial education.

The conference took up innovations and policies that can be adopted in the judiciary, to improve judicial management.

Still, according to Sereno, it’s not just the improvement of the third branch of democracy that needs attention.
Improving the judicial processes pertaining to the protection of rule of law and human rights is an urgent priority.

“While it is imperative that we who are at the frontline of policy formulation and implementation in our respective judiciaries actively seek novel approaches in the improvement of judicial administration, it is more crucial that we do not lose sight of the reason behind our common objective of improving efficiency and accuracy in our judicial processes—the protection of the Rule of Law and the human rights of our people.”

She reminded the delegates that, “as we here remain pro-active proponents of the advancement of the quality of judicial education, we likewise must remain mindful that we are doing so in order to have a direct impact on the protection of the life, liberty, and security of ordinary people.”