Ideas to improve family justice system

Ideas to improve family justice system

SINGAPORE - Equip the police and teachers with multi-disciplinary skills. Rely more on non-adversarial processes like mediation and counselling. Give judges a more active role in the running of a trial.

These are the crux of broad changes, aimed at improving the handling of family disputes here, which are being looked into by the recently formed Family Justice Committee. Co-chaired by Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah and Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah, it will soon do a public consultation on its ideas.

"What we must ultimately aim for is an ecosystem in which we will hear clearly the voice of the child so that the child's best interests are appropriately addressed," Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said on Friday.

"(In this ecosystem), disputes and differences are resolved in a sensible and non-technical manner with a measure of heart, compassion and sympathy."

Speaking at the first Family Justice Practice Forum, he outlined some of the committee's ideas to about 300 people from various institutions including government ministries, voluntary welfare organisations and law firms.

The family justice system, noted Chief Justice Menon, is the "key institution" which advances broader public goals beyond adjudicating on private rights and interests. This includes protecting the welfare of any children who may be affected by a marriage on the rocks, for example, or any other vulnerable persons.

He said the court's role in community life is "pivotal" and has grown as more families seek redress through the justice system in light of recent economic and social trends. Last year, for example, there were roughly four times as many marriages as divorces - 27,936 versus 7,237. In 1980, there were 13 marriages for every divorce.

CJ Menon said the changes envisioned by the committee will focus on resolution and closure, and the welfare of the parties and any affected children, while also aiming to lower legal costs.

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