By Benjamin Pulta
MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) has suspended a judge in General Santos City for gross neglect due to a 10-year delay in deciding on a rape case.
In a statement Tuesday, the high court said it imposed a two-year suspension on General Santos City Regional Trial Court Branch 35 Judge Oscar P. Noel Jr. as “a result of gross neglect of duty in his role as Assisting Judge (Justice on Wheels) in Alabel, Sarangani province.”
The Office of the Court Administrator inquired about an administrative complaint alleging a prolonged delay in a criminal case under Noel’s jurisdiction since 2010.
Noel clarified that another judge initially presided over the rape charges against a certain Jimmy dela Torre filed on Oct. 30, 2007 and that he only assumed responsibility for it on Feb. 11, 2010, concurrently presiding over three different courts.
The case was heard in Maasim, Sarangani, with the Justice on Wheels (JOW) bus traveling to and from General Santos City once a month.
Noel said infrequent hearings were caused by his high caseload and time constraints, with hearing resets taking two to three months.
The Judicial Integrity Board (JIB) recommended that Noel was guilty of gross neglect of duty and meted him with a PHP250,000 fine. The SC adopted the JIB’s findings but modified the penalty to a two-year suspension.
The SC cited invoked Section 15(1), Article VIII of the Constitution, mandating lower courts to decide cases within three months.
“Efficiency and dedication in case disposition were stressed by the SC, highlighting the inevitability of delays to the prejudice of litigants without such qualities. Judges, therefore, must possess a high sense of duty and responsibility in administering justice promptly,” the court said.
Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by AM 21-08-09-SC, the SC categorized the offense as gross neglect of duty in the performance or non-performance of official functions under Section 14(d). (PNA)