What is nunc pro tunc judgment?

"Nunc pro tunc" is a Latin phrase that means "now for then."[1] A judgment nunc pro tunc is made to enter into the record an act previously done by the court, which had been omitted either through inadvertence or mistake.[2] It neither operates to correct judicial errors nor to "supply omitted action by the court."[3] Its sole purpose is to make a present record of a "judicial action which has been actually taken."[4]

The concept of nunc pro tunc judgments was sufficiently explained in Lichauco v. Tan Pho,[5] thus:

[A judgment nunc pro tunc] may be used to make the record speak the truth, but not to make it speak what it did not speak but ought to have spoken. If the court has not rendered a judgment that it might or should have rendered, or if it has rendered an imperfect or improper judgment, it has no power to remedy these errors or omissions by ordering the entry nunc pro tunc of a proper judgment. Hence a court in entering a judgment nunc pro tunc has no power to construe what the judgment means, but only to enter of record such judgment as had been formerly rendered, but which had not been entered of record as rendered. In all cases the exercise of the power to enter judgments nunc pro tunc presupposes the actual rendition of a judgment, and a mere right to a judgment will not furnish the basis for such an entry.

. . . .

If the court has omitted to make an order, which it might or ought to have made, it cannot, at a subsequent term, be made nunc pro tunc. According to some authorities, in all cases in which an entry nunc pro tunc is made, the record should show the facts which authorize the entry, 'but other courts hold that in entering an order nunc pro tunc the court is not confined to an examination of the judges minutes, or written evidence, but may proceed on any satisfactory evidence, including parol testimony. In the absence of a statute or rule of court requiring it, the failure of the judge to sign the journal entries or the record does not affect the force of the order grante[d].

. . . .

The object of a judgment nunc pro tunc is not the rendering of a new judgment and the ascertainment and determination of new rights, but is one placing in proper form on the record, the judgment that had been previously rendered, to make it speak the truth, so as to make it show what the judicial action really was, not to correct judicial errors, such as to render a judgment which the court ought to have rendered, in place of the one it did erroneously render, nor to supply nonaction by the court, however erroneous the judgment may have been.[6] (Emphasis supplied, citations omitted)

The exercise of issuing nunc pro tunc orders or judgments is narrowly confined to cases where there is a need to correct mistakes or omissions arising from inadvertence so that the record reflects judicial action, which had previously been taken. Furthermore, nunc pro tunc judgments or orders can only be rendered if none of the parties will be prejudiced.[7]

Parties seeking the issuance of nunc pro tunc judgments or orders must allege and prove that the court took a particular action and that the action was omitted through inadvertence.[8] On the other hand, courts must ensure that the matters sought to be entered are supported by facts or data.[9]

This may be accomplished by referring to the records of the case. This requirement was emphasized in Lichauco, thus:

[F]or the entry of a nunc pro tunc order, it is required that the record present some visible data of the order which it is sought to be supplied by said nunc pro tunc order, whether it is the data referring to the. whole of the order or merely limited to such portion thereof, that the part lacking from the record constitutes a necessary part, an inevitable and ordinary consequence of the portion appearing in the record.[10]

Hence, courts cannot render a judgment of order nunc pro tunc in the absence of data regarding the judicial act sought to be recorded. In Lichauco, the Supreme Court invalidated the nunc pro tunc order issued by the trial court because there was "no data, partial or integral, in the record regarding the judicial act . . . in question."[11] There was no visible data appearing in the case records to establish that the trial court actually approved the lease contract in dispute.[12]

The same standard was applied in Maramba v. Lozano,[13] where a party sought the issuance of a nunc pro tunc order to strike out the name of a deceased defendant in the judgment's dispositive portion.[14] The High Court rejected the prayer and underscored that nunc pro tunc orders can only be issued when there is evidence that the judicial act in question was previously made.[15]

[1] Go v. Echavez, 765 Phil. 410, 423 (2015) [Per J. Brion, Second Division].

[2] Lichauco v. Tan Pho, 51 Phil. 862, 879-881 (1923) [Per J. Romualdez, En Banc].

[3] Id. at 880-881.

[3] Id. at 879.

[4] 51 Phil. 862 (1923) [Per J. Romualdez, En Banc].

[5] Id. at 879-881.

[6] Id. at 881.

[7] Briones-Vasquez v. Court of Appeals, 491 Phil. 81, 93 (2005) [Per J. Azcuna, First Division].

[8] Lichauco v. Tan Pho, 51 Phil. 862, 884 (1923) [Per J. Romualdez, En Banc].

[9] Id. at 884.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] 126 Phil. 833 (1967) [Per J. Makalintal, En Banc].

[13] Id. at 837.

[14] Id. at 837-838.