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Supreme Court launches new lawyers’ code of conduct

The Supreme Court on Thursday launched the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA), which governs the conduct of lawyers in private and professional matters.

The new code, launched at an event at the Manila Hotel, revises the 34-year-old Code of Professional Responsibility that was promulgated in 1988.

“CPRA is no mere revision; it is an overhaul —an overhaul on the approach and attitude of lawyers of their ethical responsibility in the new era of law practice— an era of more attuned, more responsible, and more accountable legal practice,” Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said.

Gesmundo said the CPRA also revises the lawyer’s oath “to conform to the duties and responsibilities” of the profession.

During the event, Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen led more than 200 legal practitioners in swearing the new oath.

Gesmundo also said that the results of the 2022 Bar exams will be announced on Friday, April 14.

"How many will have this first privilege to take this new lawyer's oath, I cannot answer until Justice Benjamin Caguioa submits his recommendation to the court en banc tomorrow," Gesmundo said.

"So for those who have sons or daughters who took the bar, tell them to memorize it today," he added.

Meanwhile, according to Gesmundo, the CPRA tackles the use of social media, the formation and definition of a lawyer-client relationship, and the conduct of non-legal staff.

The Chief Justice said it also consolidates regulations on the discipline of lawyers, abbreviates administrative proceedings, and addresses the punitive aspect of unethical legal practice.

“With CPRA, we respond to the need for adaptation and progress in the ever-evolving landscape of law. CPRA is part of our bigger campaign for ethical responsibility under our desired outcome of efficiency,” Gesmundo said.

In his speech, Gesmundo highlighted principles such as independence, propriety, fidelity, competence and diligence, equality, and accountability.

Complex world of Social Media

Gesmundo said legal professionals have transcended the physical realm due to technology.

“As we navigate the complex world of social media, we must ensure that our online presence upholds the dignity of our profession,” Gesmundo said.

“This means refraining from posting false or unverified information, revealing confidential matters, or using social media to unduly influence official duties,” he added.

He said the CPRA serves as a compass for legal practitioners.

“By adhering to a legal conduct, we maintain the honor and dignity of our profession, establish a brotherhood among ourselves, and ensure our faithful compliance with our duties and obligations not only to the legal profession but to the courts as well, not only to our clients but also to the public and nation in general,” he said.

The event was attended by former Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, and Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, among others.

The Court unanimously approved the CPRA during its En Banc session in Baguio City on Tuesday.

PAO Reaction

In an ambush interview, Remulla said the new code has a big effect on the legal system. He said the public should watch out for the reaction of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

"Yung isa— merong isang provision kasi about conflict of interest. Specifically alluding to PAO, or really talking about PAO. Section 22 of Propriety, I think, of the Code speaks about that," Remulla said.

Section 22 states that "a conflict of interest of any of the lawyers of the PAO incident to services rendered for the Office shall be imputed only to the said lawyer and the lawyer’s direct supervisor."

It adds that "such conflict of interest will not disqualify the rest of the lawyers from PAO from representing the affected client."

Meanwhile, PAO chief Persida Acosta shared letters where the agency asked the SC to remove the provision so the PAO will be governed by the remaining provisions on conflict of interest.

PAO also moved to strike Section 22, saying it is not necessary and may give the PAO client the impression that he is being blindsided.

"Truth be told… based on PAO’s experience, PAO clients would not agree that their rival parties be also represented by public attorneys," the letter read.

"This goes true even for previous engagements. From PAO’s experience, clients would not want to be represented by a counsel who previously assisted an adversary; and would not want their public attorney to represent their adversary even in future and unrelated cases," it added.

Acosta said she would discuss PAO’s next step with other officials after the launch of the CPRA with the contested provision.

"I will consult pa the PAO Senior Officials and our pro-bono advisers," Acosta said in a message to GMA News Online.

In March, Acosta said the agency would not help fraternity members linked to the hazing of Adamson University student John Matthew Salilig due to a conflict of interest. —VAL, GMA Integrated News