In Re: Plagiarism Charges Against Justice Mariano Del Castillo (2011)

October 12, 2012

Legal Ethics – Duty of Counsel To Cite Law/Jurisprudence Without Alteration

The Malaya Lolas received an adverse decision in the case Vinuya vs Romulo decided by the Supreme Court on April 28, 2010. The Malaya Lolas sought the annulment of said decision due to the alleged irregularity in the writing of the text of the decision. Allegedly, the ponente of said case, Justice Mariano del Castillo copied verbatim portions of the decision laid down in said case from three works by three foreign authors without acknowledging said authors hence an overt act of plagiarism which is highly reprehensible.

Plagiarism as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary is the “deliberate and knowing presentation of another person’s original ideas or creative expressions as one’s own.”

ISSUE: Whether or not plagiarism is applicable to decisions promulgated by the Supreme Court.

HELD: No. It has been a long standing practice in this jurisdiction not to cite or acknowledge the originators of passages and views found in the Supreme Court’s decisions. These omissions are true for many of the decisions that have been penned and are being penned daily by magistrates from the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Tax Appeals, the Regional Trial Courts nationwide and with them, the municipal trial courts and other first level courts. Never in the judiciary’s more than 100 years of history has the lack of attribution been regarded and demeaned as plagiarism.

As put by one author (this time acknowledged by the Court), Joyce C. George from her Judicial Opinion Writing Handbook:

A judge writing to resolve a dispute, whether trial or appellate, is exempted from a charge of plagiarism even if ideas, words or phrases from a law review article, novel thoughts published in a legal periodical or language from a party’s brief are used without giving attribution.  Thus judges are free to use whatever sources they deem appropriate to resolve the matter before them, without fear of reprisal.  This exemption applies to judicial writings intended to decide cases for two reasons: the judge is not writing a literary work and, more importantly, the purpose of the writing is to resolve a dispute. As a result, judges adjudicating cases are not subject to a claim of legal plagiarism.

Further, as found by the Supreme Court, the omission of the acknowledgment by Justice del Castillo of the three foreign authors arose from a clerical error. It was shown before the Supreme Court that the researcher who finalized the draft written by Justice del Castillo accidentally deleted the citations/acknowledgements; that in all, there is still an intent to acknowledge and not take such passages as that of Justice del Castillo’s own.


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