Doctrine of Hierarchy of Courts
By Xela Leona Laqui on March 23,2023
THE Doctrine of Hierarchy of Courts (or the Principle of Judicial Hierarchy) provides that when here, courts have concurrent or shared jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case, a litigant is not free to file a complaint or petition in any court of his or her choice but must observe a certain hierarchy.
In Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines v Department of Labor and Employment, 836 Phil. 205 promulgated on July 17, 2018, the Supreme Court stated that the doctrine of hierarchy of courts requires that recourse must first be obtained from lower courts sharing concurrent jurisdiction with a higher court. This is to ensure that the Supreme Court remains a court of last resort so as to satisfactorily perform the functions assigned to it by the fundamental charter and immemorial tradition.
In People v Cuaresma, 254 Phil. 418, April 18, 1989, where the Supreme Court, in dismissing the petition, required strict observance of the policy of hierarchy of courts stating that the court’s original jurisdiction to issue writs of certiorari is not exclusive. It is shared by the Supreme Court with Regional Trial Courts, which may issue the writ, enforceable in any part of their respective regions. It is also shared by the Supreme Court, and by the Regional Trial Court, with the Court of Appeals, although prior to the effectivity of Batas Pambansa Bilang 129 on Aug. 14, 1981, the latter’s authority to issue the extraordinary writs was restricted to those “in aid of its appellate jurisdiction.”
The hierarchy of courts determines the venue of appeals, and should also serve as a general determinant of the appropriate forum for petitions for the extraordinary writs. The judicial hierarchy most certainly indicates that petitions for the issuance of extraordinary writs against first level courts should be filed with the Regional Trial Court, and those against the latter, with the Court of Appeals. A direct invocation of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction to issue these writs should be allowed only when there are special and important reasons clearly and specifically set out in the petition. This is an established policy that is necessary to prevent inordinate demands upon the Supreme Court’s time and attention which are better devoted to those matters within its exclusive jurisdiction, and to prevent further overcrowding of the Supreme Court’s docket. Indeed, the removal of the restriction on the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals in this regard — resulting from the deletion of the qualifying phrase, “in aid of its appellate jurisdiction” — was evidently intended precisely to relieve the Supreme Court of the burden of dealing with applications for the extraordinary writs which, but for the expansion of the appellate court’s corresponding jurisdiction, would have had to be filed with it.
The doctrine of hierarchy of courts dictates that direct recourse to the Supreme Court is allowed only to resolve questions of law, notwithstanding the invocation of paramount or transcendental importance of the action. This doctrine is not mere policy, rather, it is a constitutional filtering mechanism designed to enable the Supreme Court to focus on the more fundamental and essential tasks assigned to it by the highest law of the land (GIOS-SAMAR Inc. v Department of Transportation and Communications 896 SCRA 213, March 12, 2019).
In The Diocese of Bacolod v Commission on Elections 751 Phil. 301, Jan. 21, 2015, the Supreme Court identified the instances wherein the strict application of the doctrine of hierarchy of courts may be relaxed. These include: (1) when there are genuine issues of constitutionality that must be addressed at the most immediate time; (2) when the issues involved are of transcendental importance; (3) in cases of first impression; (4) when the constitutional issues raised are better decided by the Supreme Court; (5) when the exigency or time element presented in the case cannot be ignored; (6) when the petition filed reviews the act of a constitutional organ; (7) when petitioners have no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law; and (8) when the petition includes questions that are dictated by public welfare and the advancement of public policy, or demanded by the broader interest of justice, or the orders complained of were found to be patent nullities, or the appeal was considered as clearly an inappropriate remedy.
While resort to courts may directly be availed by a party in defending their rights, parties may not proceed directly to the Supreme Court because the doctrine of hierarchy of courts requires that recourse must first be made to lower courts sharing concurrent jurisdiction with a higher court and only in those instances mentioned above may the doctrine be relaxed.
Xela Leona Laqui is an Associate of Mata-Perez, Tamayo & Francisco (MTF Counsel). This article is for general information only, and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.