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Tiu vs. Middleton Case Digest


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.

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Facts:

The Middletons filed a complaint for recovery of possession of real property, accounting and damages against Tiu before the RTC of Oroquieta City.  Before the commencement of the 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 x x x. In his Pre-Trial Brief, Tiu averred that he would be presenting six witnesses, but he did not name them. 

In his Pre-trial Order, however, the trial judge did not exercise his discretion to exclude the unlisted or unnamed witnesses. Rather, it simply provided that the defendant (Tiu) 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. 

Trial ensued, and the Middletons presented their witnesses in due course. When his turn came, Tiu called a certain Antonia as his first witness. Citing Section 6, Rule 18 of the 1997 Rules of Court, the Middletons objected, arguing that the witness could not be allowed to testify because Tiu had failed to name her in his pre-trial brief. Sustaining the Middletons, the lower court then issued the assailed orders. Hence, the present recourse. 


Issue:

Can a judge exclude a witness whose name and synopsis of testimony were not included in the pre-trial?


Held:

Yes. Pre-trial is an answer to the clarion call for the speedy disposition of cases. It is essential in the simplification and the speedy disposition of disputes. In 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. 

In his Pre-trial Order, 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.

Indeed, the court and the parties must pay attention not only to the pre-trial briefs, but also to the pre-trial order. Section 7 of the same Rule states:

SEC. 7. Record of pre-trial. -- The proceedings in the pre-trial shall be recorded. Upon the termination thereof, the court shall issue an order which shall recite in detail the matters taken up in the conference, the action taken thereon, the amendments allowed to the pleadings, and the agreements or admissions made by the parties as to any of the matters considered. Should the action proceed to trial, the order shall explicitly define and limit the issues to be tried. The contents of the order shall control the subsequent course of action, unless modified before trial to prevent manifest injustice

Hence, 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. (Tiu vs. Middleton, G.R. No. 134998. July 19, 1999)

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