Friday, May 30, 2014

Can a witness who has not been named by a Party in his or her Pre-trial Brief testify at trial?

While the Rules of Court require parties to submit pre-trial briefs, which must contain, among others, the number and names of witnesses they intend to present, and the nature and purpose of their testimonies, said pre-trial briefs almost always contain a reservation for presentation of additional evidence and witnesses. In effect, circumventing the requirement of limiting the witnesses one can put to the stand to those named in the pre-trial briefs, thus naming them and apprising the opposing party of their impending testimony prior to trial proper to avoid surprises.
But can a party object to the presentation of, or can a court validly exclude, a witness that was not named in the pre-trial brief?
This is the issue resolved by the Court in the case below.
In this case, the petitioner brings to Court on pure question of law the issue of whether the court can prevent a witness who has not been named in the pre-trial brief from taking to the stand.
Pre-trial* is an essential device for the speedy disposition of disputes. Hence, parties cannot brush it aside as a mere technicality. Where the pre-trial brief does not contain the names of witnesses and the synopses of their testimonies as required by the Rules of Court, the trial court, through its pre-trial order, may bar the witnesses from testifying. However, an order allowing the presentation of unnamed witnesses may no longer be modified during the trial without the consent of the parties affected.
The Facts
The facts are undisputed. The present Petition arose from a Complaint for recovery of ownership and possession of real property, accounting and damages filed against herein petitioner before the Regional Trial Court of Oroquieta City.
Before the commencement of trial, the court a quo sent a Notice of Pre-trial Conference, stating in part: "The parties are WARNED that witnesses whose names and addresses are not submitted at the pre-trial may not be allowed to testify at the trial, and documents not marked as exhibits at the pre-trial, except those not then available or existing, may be barred admission in evidence." 4 (Emphasis supplied.)
In his Pre-trial Brief, petitioner averred that he would be presenting six witnesses, but he did not name them. After the pre-trial conference, the court a quo issued a Pre-trial Order stating that the petitioner would present six witnesses and specifying the hearing dates for the said purpose. 5
Trial ensued, and herein respondents, as plaintiffs in the case below, presented their witnesses in due course. When his turn came, petitioner called Antonia Tiu as his first witness. Citing Section 6, Rule 18 of the 1997 Rules of Court, respondents objected, arguing that the witness could not be allowed to testify because petitioner had failed to name her in his Pre-trial Brief. Sustaining respondents, the lower court then issued its assailed Orders.
The Court’s ruling.
We rule for petitioner.
Main Issue:
Can Petitioner's Unnamed Witnesses Testify?
Pre-trial is an answer to the clarion call for the speedy disposition of cases. Although it was discretionary under the 1940 Rules of Court, it was made mandatory under the 1964 Rules and the subsequent amendments in 1997. xxx
In a pre-trial, the judge is not a passive arbiter; he is an active participant who constantly seeks avenues through which trial can be expedited, simplified or even avoided by a resort to alternative modes of dispute resolution. The role and the authority of the trial court during pre-trial has been described by the Court in this wise: 16
Again, it is unquestionably within the trial court's power to require the parties at the pre-trial to (a) state the number of witnesses intended to be called to the stand, their names addresses, and a brief summary of the evidence each of them is expected to give, as well as to (b) formally disclose the number of the documents and things to be submitted and to furnish copies thereof or a short description of the nature of each. The tenor or character of the testimony of the witnesses and of the writings to be adduced at the trial being thus made known, in addition to the particular issues of fact and law, it becomes reasonably feasible to require the parties to state the number of trial dates that each will need to put on his case, and maybe bring about a further agreement as to some other controverted facts, or an amendment of the pleadings, etc.
What needs stressing is that the parties as well as the trial court must realize that the parties are obliged not only to make formal identification and specification of the issues and of their proofs, as above described [—] indeed, there is no reason why the Court may not oblige the parties to set these matters down in the separate writings and submit them to the Court prior to the pre-trial, and then to discuss, refine and embody the matters agreed upon in a single document at or shortly after the pre-trial — but also and equally as peremptorily, to directly address and discuss with sincerity and candor and in entire good faith each of the other subjects enumerated in Section 1, Rule 20, i.e., the "possibility of an amicable settlement or of a submission to arbitration," the "advisability of a preliminary reference of issues to a commissioner," and "such other matters as may aid in the prompt disposition of the action," inclusive of a resort to the modes of discovery.
In light of the objectives of a pre-trial and the role of the trial court therein, it is evident that judges have the discretion to exclude witnesses and other pieces of evidence not listed in the pre-trial brief, provided the parties are given prior notice to this effect. 17
In the present case, the Notice of Pre-trial Conference warned the parties that "witnesses whose names and addresses are not submitted at the pre-trial may not be allowed to testify at the trial." 18 In his Pre-trial Brief, petitioner merely stated that he intended to present four (6) witnesses "whose direct testimony will be finished in an average of one (1) hour each." He further requested four hearing days to present his evidence. 19 Evidently, he did not comply with the above rules and the Notice of Pre-trial Conference, because he failed to give the names of his witnesses and the synopsis of their testimonies.
In his Pre-trial Order, 20 however, the trial judge did not exercise his discretion to exclude the unlisted or unnamed witnesses. Rather, it simply provided that "[t]he defendant will present six witnesses." It made no mention at all that they would be barred from testifying unless they were named. Significantly, it also stated that "plaintiffs will offer ten witnesses," without however naming them. Since the Order allowed respondents (as plaintiffs before the trial court) to present witnesses, it necessarily follows that it should grant the same right to petitioner.
Hence, the provision in the Pre-trial Order allowing petitioner to present six witnesses "shall control the subsequent course of action." The court a quo proceeded with the trial without modifying the Order. In the same vein, respondents did not challenge it before the trial. Neither did they invoke the power of the trial court to compel the petitioner to submit the names of his witnesses and summaries of their testimonies. By their silence, respondents acquiesced to the Pre-trial Order allowing the presentation of petitioner's unnamed witnesses. Modifying a pre-trial order during the trial or, worse, when the defendant is about to present witnesses will indubitably result in manifest injustice. This could not have been the intention of the Rules.
 
Silvestre Tiu vs. Daniel Middleton, et al., G.R. No. 134998 July 19, 1999
Read the full text of the case here.
 
 

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