SC Simplifies Guidelines for the Lifting of Lawyers’ Suspension
The Supreme Court has simplified the requirements for the lifting of orders of suspension imposed against lawyers.
In a nine-page Decision penned by Justice Rodil V. Zalameda, the Supreme Court En Banc adopted the recommendation of the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) to clarify the varying interpretations of the guidelines in the lifting of an order of a lawyer’s suspension as set in the 2010 case of Maniago v. De Dios (Maniago).
The Court noted there was apparent inconsistency in the implementation of the Maniago guidelines, specifically on whether or not additional certifications are required on top of the Sworn Statement attesting compliance to the order of suspension. The additional certifications are from the courts where the suspended lawyer practices and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Chapter (IBP) where the lawyer belongs.
Recognizing that requiring suspended lawyers to submit the additional certifications from various sources has resulted in prolonging the suspension more than the periods set by the Court, the Court clarified that for purposes of requests for lifting of the suspension, the Maniago guidelines should be interpreted liberally. Hence, submission of a sworn certificate of service of suspension shall be deemed sufficient compliance. No additional certifications are needed.
“While temporary loss of the privilege to practice law is a necessary offshoot of an administrative transgression, this Court did not, certainly, intend to cause additional economic burdens to suspended lawyers by dragging out the period for their suspension. As the OBC has noted, for most of the suspended lawyers, if not all, their only source of income is derived from the exercise of their profession,” held the Court.
“While lawyers are neither prohibited nor discouraged to attach supporting certifications from their local IBP chapters, and from courts and quasi-judicial agencies where they practice, their requests to resume practice will not be held in abeyance on account of their non-submission,” explained the Court.
The Court added that procedural safeguards are in place to address possible abuse of the process. “Every order of suspension imposed against a member of the Bar will still be furnished to the: (1) OBC to be appended to respondent’s personal record as an attorney; (2) the IBP for its information and guidance; and, (3) the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for circulation to all courts in the country. Further, as Maniago dictates, a lawyer who submits a false or untruthful sworn statement shall be subject to applicable criminal and/or administrative punishment.”
The Court stressed that “By making the process of lifting suspensions more efficient, this Court is not waiving its authority to discipline erring lawyers or tolerating professional indiscretions but is merely balancing its regulatory duty with practical considerations.”
“Delaying and making the process of lifting disciplinary sanctions disproportionately burdensome, albeit inadvertently, achieves no further noble objective. Indeed, while the Court will not hesitate to discipline an erring lawyer, it should, at the same time, also ensure that a lawyer may not be deprived of the freedom and right to exercise his profession unreasonably,” concluded the Court.
The uniform guidelines governing the lifting of the penalty of a lawyer’s suspension are as follows:
1. After finding that a lawyer must be suspended from the practice of law, the Court shall render a decision/resolution imposing the appropriate penalty;
2. The order of suspension shall be immediately executory upon receipt by the lawyer;
3. Every order of suspension shall be furnished to the: (1) OBC to be appended to the lawyer’s personal record as an attorney; (2) IBP for its information and guidance; and (3) OCA for circulation to all courts in the country;
4. Upon the expiration of the period of suspension, the lawyer shall file a Sworn Statement with the Court, through the OBC, stating that he or she has desisted from the practice of law, has not appeared in any court during the period of his or her suspension, and has complied with all other directives of the Court relative to the order of suspension;
5. Copies of such Sworn Statement shall be furnished to the Local Chapter of the IBP, the Executive Judge of the courts, or any quasi-judicial agencies where the lawyer has pending cases handled by him or her, and/or where he or she has appeared as counsel;
6. The order of suspension shall be automatically lifted upon submission by the lawyer of such Sworn Statement that he or she has completed the service of suspension;
7. While lawyers are neither prohibited nor discouraged to attach supporting certifications from their local IBP chapters, and from courts and quasi-judicial agencies where they practice, their requests to resume the practice of law will not be held in abeyance on account of their non-submission; and,
8. Any finding or report contrary to the statements made by the lawyer under oath shall be a ground for the imposition of a more severe punishment, or even disbarment, as may be warranted.
FULL TEXT OF A.C. No. 11032 dated January 10, 2023 at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/11032-re-order-dated-01-october-2015-in-crim-case-no-15-318727-34-regional-trial-court-rtc-branch-49-manila-against-atty-severo-l-brillantes/(Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)