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Lai v People - The passive participation of Judge Elumba did not matter as the purpose of the Rules was

Arrest| 1 July 2015| Bersamin, J. to ensure that the proceedings be conducted by a judge who was wholly free, disinterested,
impartial, and independent.
Nature of Case:
Digest maker: RULING:
SUMMARY: WHEREFORE, the Court ANNULS and SETS ASIDE the decision promulgated on May 27, 2005 by
the accused Lai is assailing the decision of the lower courts which convicted him of homicide for the Court of Appeals and the judgment rendered on August 22, 2001 by the Regional Trial Court;
the death of the victim. He assails the fact that the judge who tried and decided the case was a REMANDS Criminal Case No. 17446 entitled People of the Philippines v. Nelson Lai y Bilbao to the
former public prosecutor in the same Branch of the RTC. The SC ruled in his favor and held that he Regional Trial Court in Bacolod City with instructions to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial
was deprived of due process. Hence, his case was remanded to the trial court with the instruction Court to assign it to any Regional Trial Judge not disqualified under Section 1 of Rule 137 of the Rules
that a new judge try the case. of Court; and INSTRUCTS the new trial judge to resume the trial in Criminal Case No. 17446 starting
from the stage just prior to the assumption of Judge Fernando R. Elumba as the trial judge, and to hear
and decide Criminal Case No. 17446 with reasonable dispatch.
FACTS: No pronouncement on costs of suit.
 Version of Prosecution: While the victim Enrico Villanueva, Jr. and his friends were waiting SO ORDERED.
for their other friend inside the jeepney owned by the accused Lai, the latter grabbed the
victim’s arm and accused him of stealing his jeep’s antenna. The victim was able to free PROVISIONS:
himself from the accused’s grip and ran towards the house of his friend nearby. Later that ROC: Section 1, Rule 137 – Disqualification of Judges – No judge or judicial officer shall sit in any case
day, the victim left to go to a dancehall for a benefit dance where the accused was also in which he, or his wife or child, is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee, creditor or otherwise, or in
present. The accused walked towards the victim and suddenly a brownout occurred. While which he is related to either party within the sixth degree of consanguinity or affinity, or to counsel
the lights were out, a gunshot rang out where the victim was sitting. The victim was rushed within the fourth degree, computed according to the rules of the civil law, or in which he has been
to the hospital where he told his friends that Lai was the one who shot him. He likewise told executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or counsel, or in which he has presided in any inferior court
a police officer and his father that Nelson Lai was the one who shot him. when his ruling or decision is the subject of review, without the written consent of all parties-in-
 Version of Defense: After coming home from the house of his friend for a few bottles of interest, signed by them and entered upon the record. A judge may, in the exercise of his sound
beer, the accused went home and noticed that 8 people were seated inside his jeepney. He discretion, disqualify himself from sitting in a case, for just or valid reasons other than those mentioned
requested them not to stay inside the vehicle, and all of them left without any untoward above.
incident. Later that day, when he and his wife were about to have dinner in the dancehall,
he heard a gunshot which he initially dismissed as a firecracker. When he heard that New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary: Section 5, Canon 3 - Judges shall
someone was shot, he went to the dancehall to find out that his son was the one who brought disqualify themselves from participating in any proceedings in which they are unable to decide the
the victim to the hospital, so he went home to eat dinner. Later that evening, 3 policemen matter impartially or in which it may appear to a reasonable observer that they are unable to decide
went to his house and told him that the victim mentioned his name as the one who shot him. the matter impartially. Such proceedings include, but are not limited to instances where:
Believing that he did not do anything, the accused volunteered to go to the police station. x x x x
The accused requested a paraffin test wherein he tested negative. (d) The judge served as executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or lawyer in the case or matter in
 The RTC convicted the accused of homicide. The accused appealed to the CA wherein he controversy, or a former associate of the judge served as counsel during their association, or the judge
raised as one of the errors that he was deprived due process when the case was decided by or lawyer was a material witness therein; x x x.
the judge who acted as the public prosecutor in the case before he was appointed to the
bench. The CA affirmed the RTC ruling. Hence, this petition.
WON the accused was deprived of due process. YES
- The records show that Judge Elumba was a former public prosecutor in the same Branch
where the accused was convicted. As such, the judge should have disqualified himself from
trying the case because he was compulsorily disqualified
- The judge argued that he appeared in the accused’s case only after the prosecution had
rested its case. Judge Elumba asserted that he did not personally prosecute the case, and that
the accused should have sought his disqualification prior to the rendition of the judgment
of conviction
- The SC cited the Constitutional provision that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty
or property without due process of law.” Any violation of such right cannot be condoned,
for the impartiality of the judge who hears the case and decides it is an indispensable
requirement of due process.
- The Court also cited Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court and Section 5, Canon 3of the
New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary
- The SC held that the CA erred in contravening the letter and spirit of the Rules. The word
counsel and lawyer should be accepted in their general acceptation. Therefore, the
appearance of Judge Elumba’s name in the records of the case sufficed to disqualify him
from deciding the case having represented the state in the prosecution of the accused, he
could not sincerely claim neutrality or impartiality as the trial judge who would hear the
case. Hence, he should have removed himself from being the judge.