Jurisdiction sounds a bit intimidating for the layman, specially if you add “court” to it. This is particularly true if there’s a “foreign element,” such as in contracts, where a particular aspect of the contract — whether in its nature, negotiations, execution, performance or breach — is done or governed in a territorial jurisdiction outside the Philippines.
The word “jurisdiction,” as applied to the exercise of judicial power, is used in different, though related, senses. Jurisidction may refer (1) to the authority of the court to entertain a particular kind of action or to administer a particular kind of relief, or it may refer to the power of the court over the parties, or (2) over the property which is the subject to the litigation.
Jurisdiction over subject matter. Jurisdiction over the subject matter is the power to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong and is conferred by the sovereign authority which organized courts and defines its powers. Jurisdiction over the subject matter is provided by law. For instance, the law provides what matters are under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchance Commission (SEC), the Military Tribunals or the regular courts.
Jurisdiction over the person of the plaintiff. This is acquired by the filing of the complaint or initiatory pleading before the court by the plaintiff. This is related to the right of a person to file a case in a Philippines court. The more problematic concern is the right of the non-resident alien to seek remedy in Philippine courts. As held in the case of Dilweg vs. Phillips (12 Phil. 243, 247 ), “it is not indispensable for a foreigner to establish residence, nor need he be physically present in a state which he is not a resident or citizen in order that he may initiate or maintain a personal action against a resident or citizen of that other state for rights of action arising in, or for violations of laws committed within, the territorial jurisdiction of that other state. In this jurisdiction, no general law has come to our knowledge which restricts the right of non-resident aliens to sue in our courts. It is not disputed that plaintiffs cause of action arose in, and that the defendants are within, our territorial jurisdiction.”
Jurisdiction over the person of the defendant. Jurisdiction over the person is acquired by the voluntary appearance of a party in court and his submission to its authority, or it is acquired by the coercive power of legal process exerted over the person of the defendant. In other words, a defendant who wasn’t served with summons is generally not bound by the decision in that particular case.
Now, if we consider a “foreign element,” it may happen that a Philippine court will refuse to take cognizance of a case even if it has jurisdiciton. Indeed, Philippine courts, having acquired jurisdiction over the case, may refuse to assume jurisdiction in spite of its having acquired jurisdiction. Conversely, courts may assume jurisdiction over the case if it chooses to do so, provided, that the following requisites are met: 1) That the Philippine Court is one to which the parties may conveniently resort to; 2) That the Philippine Court is in a position to make an intelligent decision as to the law and the facts; and, 3) That the Philippine Court has or is likely to have power to enforce its decision.
Under the principle of forum non conveniens, in conflicts of law cases, courts may refuse to exercise jurisdiction where it is not the most “convenient” or available forum and the parties are not precluded from seeking remedies elsewhere. This principle was developed to combat the practice of non-resident litigants to choose the forum or place wherein to bring their suit for various reasons or excuses, including securing procedural advantages, annoying and harassing the defendant, avoiding overcrowded dockets, or selecting a more friendly venue. On the other hand, even if a Philippine court assumes jurisdiction and decides a case, it may choose to apply foreign a law. This, however, is a tricky subject that requires an entirely separate post.