Philippines Court Records
Some of your ancestors may be in court records as defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, or jurors. They may have participated in matters brought before the court in such cases as:
- Legal separation.
- Public office.
- Civil and criminal lawsuits.
- Probate (see the “Probate Records” section of this outline).
- Property disputes.
Unfortunately, court records are complex and difficult to use. There are many records, but few are indexed. Court names have changed over the years, and the records use many difficult legal terms and abbreviations. Search court records only after you have searched more helpful records. Court records may help establish family relationships and places of residence. They often provide occupations, descriptions of individuals, and other excellent family history information.
There are three main types of legal court cases:
- Civil cases involve violations of law that harm an individual (but not society), such as property damage, trespassing, or libel. In these cases, one or more individuals file suit against others to enforce private rights or to receive compensation when their rights have been violated.
- Equity cases involve disputes or arguments between individuals when laws have not been violated. In these cases, individuals petition the court to reach a fair decision for both parties.
Cases may involve probates of estates or property rights. Today these cases are primarily handled by the Barangay Conciliation Courts.
- Criminal cases involve violations of law that are harmful to society, such as drunk driving, theft, and murder. In these cases, the government (or “the people”) files suit against the defendant. Serious crimes are felonies;
minor crimes are misdemeanors.
The Court System
The current court system was reformed in 1980 and does not have records before that date. For records prior to 1980, documents in the Court of First Instance are usually most valuable for family history research. There are three divisions within this court: Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts, Circuit Criminal Courts, and Courts of Agrarian Relations. You may find important names, dates, and places on records of:
- Name changes
- Philippine citizenship changes
In addition to the court records, all Philippine citizens are required to declare any changes in civil status to their local civil registrar. The registrar records all changes in books called registers, such as the Register of Acknowledgment of Natural Children and the Register of Changes of Names. Sometimes it is simpler to visit the local civil registrar’s office than it is to visit the courts. However, the law requiring the reporting of changes to the registrar has not been uniformly kept or enforced.
Although the earliest court records and local civil registrar logs and registers date from 1900, most are dated after World War II.