Guidelines to flag and curb costs of litigation

Guidelines to flag and curb costs of litigation
The exterior of the present Supreme Court.

SINGAPORE - To rein in the costs of civil litigation and give people an idea of the kind of expenses they may have to bear, the Supreme Court will introduce cost guidelines on its website.

These guidelines would give the disputing parties a rough idea of the costs they can expect at various stages of litigation.

Those who go to court in a civil lawsuit will also have to submit cost estimates before the case is decided. This allows both sides to have a gauge of how much they might have to pay the other side if they lose the case.

It would also cut down further disputes over costs.

"Liberty, family distress and trauma and the accessibility of our justice system are what viscerally concern our citizens. We must therefore continue to design our legal frameworks and our processes with these imperatives in mind," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the opening of the legal year yesterday.

Meanwhile, Singapore's newest court - the Singapore International Commercial Court that will hear cross-border disputes - also kicked off yesterday.

The cost guidelines, which will also be published in the Supreme Court's "practice directions" for legal practitioners, are part of a move to manage litigation costs, which Chief Justice Menon called a major concern.

Senior lawyer Amolat Singh said the guidelines should bring down costs: "With the transparency... the client will be in a position to negotiate better."

Agreeing, Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming said: "Having parties submit a costs budget... forces them to think carefully about the litigation strategy to be employed and resources to be deployed."

Yesterday, the Chief Justice also announced a new Civil Justice Commission to look at the litigation process and issues such as simplifying court rules.

He also welcomed a batch of five Senior Judges, including retired Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, 77, who will work part-time and train new judges.

Also introduced yesterday was the Singapore Judicial College housed in the Supreme Court. This will train judges and judicial officers, and develop a laboratory to improve practices.

On the criminal justice front, the State Courts is looking to have a system for complex criminal cases, especially where multiple charges are involved, to let a judge follow through a case and control the pace of proceedings.

This helps to minimise pre-trial delays, said Chief Justice Menon.

Yesterday, Attorney-General V.K. Rajah also stressed in his speech that justice must be accessible and costs should not bar the poor from resolving disputes.

He also said it was important for Singapore to have laws relevant to its social and cultural contexts. For instance, it will keep the offence of scandalising the judiciary, unlike Britain which abolished it in 2013.

"Change must not come at the cost of what is essential... Public confidence in the authority of the judiciary to administer justice, and their ability to do so justly must be safeguarded."

This article was first published on Jan 6, 2015.
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