6 April 2020

On 3 April 2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced the implementation of a set of elevated safe distancing measures to pre-empt the trend of increasing local transmission of Covid-19. These measures are intended to significantly reduce physical movement and interaction in public and private places.

In light of these measures, the Honourable the Chief Justice directed that the Supreme Court, State Courts and Family Justice Courts will hear only essential and urgent matters from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020 (both dates inclusive) (“Relevant Period”). This direction applies (but is not limited to) appeals, trials, applications (interlocutory or otherwise), case management conferences and pre-trial conferences in all three courts.

Essential and urgent matters

Registrars’ Circulars have been issued by each of the three courts identifying the matters that may be considered to be essential and urgent. These matters will be heard, as far as possible, by electronic means of communication without requiring physical attendance before the court.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Circular provides the following applications may be considered essential and urgent in the High Court, including the Singapore International Commercial Court where applicable:

  • Urgent injunctions or search orders
  • Setting aside of an injunction or search order
  • Arrest or release a vessel
  • Discharge of dangerous or perishable cargo
  • Judicial sale of a vessel where the safety of the crew is a concern
  • Appeals under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act,
  • Those under Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act or the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act, if indicated by the Attorney-General Chambers to be, and assessed as, urgent.
  • Urgent judicial review, e.g. in relation to implementation of Covid-19 measures
  • Those under the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act
  • An appeal to the High Court under the Protection from Harassment Act, if there are issues of personal safety involved
  • Certain applications for extension of time or variation of court orders relating to insolvency and restructuring matters
  • Certain applications for interim payments in personal injury cases
  • Stay of execution of a civil judgment
  • Committal proceedings in respect of a person who is subject to an outstanding warrant of arrest and who needs to be produced before a court within 48 hours
  • A request for any matter to be heard urgently that is assessed to be urgent

The following may be considered essential and urgent in relation to the Court of Appeal:

  • An appeal involving a matter falling within the list of urgent High Court matters above
  • An application for expedited appeal to the Court of Appeal
  • Matters involving child custody or access issues
  • A request for any matter to be heard urgently that is assessed to be urgent

The Supreme Court Circular also notes that certain criminal matters, including some Magistrate’s Appeals, applications relating to review of detention, bail, review of bail, stay of judicial execution may be considered essential and urgent.

State Courts

The State Courts Circular state that the following matters before its Civil Justice Division may be considered essential and urgent:

  • An application for urgent injunction or search order.
  • An urgent application to set aside an injunction or search order.
  • Certain applications for interim payments where payment is urgently needed
  • An urgent application for stay of execution of a civil judgment.
  • A Registrar’s Appeal involving a matter falling within the list of urgent civil matters above.

The State Courts Circular also sets out the matters which may be considered essential and urgent in relation to its Criminal Justice Division and its Community Justice and Tribunals Division.

Family Justice Courts

The Family Justice Courts Circular notes that urgent and essential matters generally comprise matters which are time sensitive, constitute a threat to life and liberty and/or involve urgent needs of the family. These matters, as well as matters before the Duty Judicial Officer, will be conducted by video conferencing to the maximum extent possible, including for cases involving litigants-in-person. Where necessary, interpretation services will be provided by video conferencing. All other matters which are not urgent and essential will be adjourned for at least four weeks.

Adjournment of hearings

All matters that had been scheduled for hearing during the Relevant Period which has not been assessed as essential and urgent will be adjourned. A party may make a request to the relevant court for such a matter to be heard within the Relevant Period (“Request”). Each court has set out the procedure to make a Request in its Circular. It is noted that parties should be mindful that a hearing is not essential or urgent merely because it is convenient for the parties to have the matter heard early. Additionally, a request should not be made if the preparation for and/or conduct of the hearing will entail any breach of safe distancing measures (for example, due to the need for lawyers to come into physical proximity with their colleagues or opposing counsel, their staff or clients).

Singapore International Arbitration Centre

The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (“SIAC”) has announced that its offices will be closed from 7 April 2020 but it will remain fully operational as it has implemented telecommuting for SIAC staff. The SIAC requests that all communications with it be via e-mail until its physical offices reopen. All queries relating to case administration should be directed to casemanagement@siac.org.sg, while queries relating to existing cases should be directed to the relevant SIAC Case Counsel. The SIAC also requests the procedures set out in its SIAC Case Management Update be adopted to ensure minimal disruption to ongoing arbitration proceedings.

Parties are requested to refrain from sending physical copies of documents or other material, or facsimiles, to the SIAC office. Time sensitive queries requiring an urgent response can be directed to +65 6713 9777 or casemanagement@siac.org.sg.

Reference materials

The following materials are available on the Supreme Court website www.supremecourt.gov.sg:

The State Courts Registrar’s Circular No. 8 of 2020 is available on the State Courts website www.statecourts.gov.sg by clicking here.

The Family Justice Courts Registrar’s Circular No. 2 of 2020 is available on the Family Justice Courts website www.familyjusticecourts.gov.sg by clicking here.

The SIAC announcement and case management update are available on the SIAC website www.siac.org.sg by clicking here and here.

Further information

Allen & Gledhill has a Covid-19 Resource Centre on our website, www.allenandgledhill.com, that contains published knowhow on legal and regulatory aspects of the Covid-19 crisis.

In addition, we have a cross-disciplinary Covid-19 Legal Task Force consisting of Partners across various practice areas to provide rapid assistance. Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at covid19taskforce@allenandgledhill.com.


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