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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
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
rule for petitioner.
Can Petitioner's Unnamed Witnesses Testify?
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
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
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.
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
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
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." 18In 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.
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.
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