Judicial Notice

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“There are facts readily verifiable, of public knowledge, and have attained a certain level of notoriety that requires no proof.”

Customarily, every material allegation raising a claim, charge, or defense in court must be proven. However, there are facts readily verifiable, of public knowledge, and have attained a certain level of notoriety that requires no proof. This is known as “judicial notice”.

The purpose of judicial notice is to save time, effort, and money in introducing, identifying, authenticating, and offering evidence. These facts are settled and undisputed; hence, they require no proof. Examples include the Philippine Constitution, laws passed by Congress, the published decisions of the Supreme Court, and the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a civil action for negligence with claims for damages, the complainant need not prove that “gravity” caused the object to fall on a parked car. However, the resulting damage to the car due to the falling object will have to be proven.

These verifiable facts are the subject of mandatory judicial notice. These facts can be sourced by the judge from reliable books or materials. However, disputed facts or facts in issue cannot depend on judicial notice because they have to be proven.

In the case of Corinthian Gardens Association v. Spouses Tanjangco, the Supreme Court declared that “a court cannot take judicial notice of a factual matter in controversy”. A reasonable amount of rent in a forcible entry case, being a fact in controversy, must be proven by sufficient evidence (G.R. No. 160795, June 27, 2008).

There is also discretionary judicial notice. This kind covers matters including: (a) those of public knowledge; (b) those that can be unquestionably demonstrated; or (c) those ought to be known to judges because of their judicial functions (Section 2, Rule 129, Rules on Evidence).

Examples of public knowledge are the devastation caused by the typhoon Odette in Visayas and parts of Mindanao; the recently concluded May 9, 2022 National and Local Elections; and the end of term of President Duterte, among others. These facts are common knowledge and do not arise from the personal knowledge of the judge.

The doctrine of judicial notice rests on the wisdom and discretion of the courts. The power of judicial notice is to be exercised with caution; care must be taken that the requisite notoriety exists; and that every reasonable doubt on the subject should have been promptly resolved in the negative (State Prosecutors v. Judge Muro, A.M. No. RTJ-92-876, September 19, 1994).

Respondent Judge Muro, on the basis of a newspaper account (which in itself is sometimes referred to as hearsay evidence twice removed), took judicial notice of the supposed lifting of foreign exchange controls, a matter which was not and cannot be considered of common knowledge or of general notoriety (A.M. No. RTJ-92-876 September 19, 1994).

“Worse, he took cognizance of an administrative regulation which was not yet in force when the order of dismissal was issued. Jurisprudence dictates that judicial notice cannot be taken of a statute before it becomes effective… A law which is not yet in force and hence, still inexistent, cannot be of common knowledge capable of ready and unquestionable demonstration” (A.M. No. RTJ-92-876 September 19, 1994).

In Latip v. Chua, the Supreme Court rejected the judicial notice of the “alleged practice of prospective lessees in the Baclaran area to pay goodwill money to the lessor”. The Court declared that “the requisite notoriety is belied by the necessity of attaching documentary evidence, i.e., the Joint Affidavit of the stallholders…” (G.R. No. 177809, October 16, 2009).

Matters that can be unquestionably demonstrated cover the fields of natural science, natural phenomena, chronology, technology, geography, statistical facts, and other fields of scientific or professional knowledge (Evidence, Francisco). For instance, the court can easily validate that September 19, 2013 is a Thursday, and that a combination of primary colors (red, yellow, blue) will result in the creation of a secondary color (orange, green, purple).

Discretionary judicial notice on matters which the judge ought to know by reason of his or her judicial functions may overlap with mandatory judicial notice; the reason being that official acts of the judiciary are the subject of mandatory judicial notice. For this author, the use of an allonge under the Apostille Convention is a matter the judge ought to know by reason of his functions.

The Supreme Court disallowed the use of judicial notice to determine the exact boundaries of a lot (Habagat Grill v. DMC-Urban Property Developer, Inc., G.R. No. 155110, March 31, 2005). In another case, the Supreme Court said that “the article in the website cited by the RTC patently lacks a requisite for it to be of judicial notice…” (Juan v. Juan and Laundromatic Corporation, G.R. 221732, August 23, 2017).

Many website articles are not well and authoritatively created and carry a certain level of doubt with them. The Court further said that it “must be remembered that some articles appearing in the internet or on websites are easily edited and their sources are unverifiable, thus, sole reliance on those articles is greatly discouraged” (G.R. 221732, August 23, 2017).

On the other hand, judicial notice was taken of the uniform practice of banks and financial institutions that “before approving a loan, [these institutions endeavor] to investigate, examine and assess would-be borrowers’ credit standing or [their] real estate [when] offered as security for the loan” (Solidbank Corp. v. Mindanao Ferraloy, G.R. No. 153535, July 28, 2005).

Generally, courts are not authorized to “take judicial notice of the contents of the records of other cases even when said cases have been tried or are pending in the same court or before the same judge.” While the principle invoked is considered to be the general rule, this rule is not absolute. There are exceptions to this rule. In the case of Tiburcio v PHHC, this Court, citing Justice Moran, stated:

In some instance, courts have taken judicial notice of proceedings in other causes, because of their close connection with the matter in the controversy. Thus, in a separate civil action against the administrator of an estate arising from an appeal against the report of the committee on claims appointed in the administration proceedings of the said estate, to determine whether or not the appeal was taken on time, the court took judicial notice of the record of the administration proceedings. Courts have also taken judicial notice of previous cases to determine whether or not the case pending is a moot one or whether or not a previous ruling is applicable in the case under consideration (Degayo v. Magbanua-Dinglasan, et al., G.R. Nos. 173148, April 6, 2015).

Not too many are aware that a court or a party in a proceeding may announce its intention, or may file a motion, respectively, to take judicial notice of any matter. This may be the subject of a hearing, to identify the fact or matter that is the subject of judicial notice, but not to present evidence. However, if the trial has been concluded or the case is on appeal, judicial notice will only be allowed if such a matter is decisive of the material issue in the case (Section 3, Rule 129, Rule on Evidence).

Judicial notice is a procedural tool available to the courts to expedite its proceedings. However, caution must be exercised as it cannot defeat the right of the party to present its case. In case of an error in the court’s taking of judicial notice, the remedy of a party is to appeal after judgment is rendered.

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Tranquil G.S. Salvador III
  • Tranquil G.S. Salvador III