30 August 2021
On 26 July 2021, the Courts (Civil and Criminal Justice) Reform Bill (“Bill”) was introduced for first reading in Parliament.
In a press release issued on the same day, the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) stated that the Bill will introduce transformational changes to the Singapore court system to support digital transformation plans and efforts to keep Singapore’s legal system efficient and accessible for all. In addition, the Bill will implement the recommendations of the Civil Justice Commission and the Civil Justice Review Committee to support efforts to establish Singapore as a leading dispute resolution hub.
The following are the key amendments introduced under the Bill.
Supporting the digital transformation of the judiciary
The Bill will support the judiciary’s digital transformation plans by empowering the courts to leverage technology to conduct proceedings in a flexible manner via electronic means, thus reducing the costs of litigation and enhancing convenience for court users. Key amendments include the following:
- Remote hearings: Participants (including the judge) who are in different physical locations may appear via electronic means such as live video-link. For example, expert witnesses residing overseas may give evidence without travelling to Singapore.
- Documents-only hearings: The court may, in appropriate cases, conduct a documents-only hearing, and make a determination on the basis of written submissions. Documents and arguments can be placed before the court by appropriate electronic means.
In considering how proceedings should be conducted, the court will consider the facts and circumstances of each case, and ensure that proceedings are conducted in a manner that is fair to all parties.
Simplifying court terminology
The Bill will simplify court terminology across the statute books to ensure that the laws are accessible to the public and easy to understand. For example, terms such as “in camera”, “plaintiff” and “subpoena” will be amended to “in private”, “claimant” and “order to attend court” respectively.
Implementing Civil Justice Reform proposals
The Bill will reform the civil justice system by implementing a number of recommendations of the Civil Justice Commission and Civil Justice Review Committee. These include empowering the courts to order parties to attempt to resolve their disputes by amicable resolution, such as through negotiation or mediation. The remaining Civil Justice Reform proposals will be implemented through the new Rules of Court, which are targeted to be introduced by the end of the year.
Interim relief in aid of foreign court proceedings
The Bill will empower the General Division of the High Court to grant interim relief in aid of foreign court proceedings, even where there are no substantive proceedings in Singapore. This will enhance Singapore’s standing as a constructive player in international litigation and support efforts to promote Singapore as a leading dispute resolution hub.
The Bill will also introduce various technical amendments to clarify court processes and promote court efficiency.