To ensure people are not hindered from seeking justice by high litigation expenses, the Supreme Court will introduce cost guidelines on its website to help rein in costs.
Those who go to court in a civil lawsuit over, say, a contract dispute will also have to submit cost estimates before the case is decided. This allows both sides to have a rough gauge of how much they have to pay the other side if they lose and minimises 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, as he announced the changes at the opening of the legal year 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 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 talk about costs and negotiate better."
Agreeing, Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming said: "Having such a cost estimation and guideline upfront will help, as parties must think very carefully. It's going to affect what they can claim later."
Yesterday, the Chief Justice also announced a new Civil Justice Commission to look at transforming the litigation process to reduce cost and issues such as simplifying court rules.
At the event attended by about 600 people, he welcomed the first batch of five Senior Judges, including retired chief justice Chan Sek Keong. They will work part-time and train new judges.
Justice Chan will sit as an occasional member of the Court of Appeal and the new Singapore International Commercial Court. Other Senior Judges will hear urgent cases.
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 allow a judge to follow through a case and control the pace of proceedings. This helps to minimise pre-trial delays, said 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 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 this 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 its ability to do so justly must be safeguarded."
The new Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) was also launched yesterday at the Supreme Court. It is a specialist court that hears international commercial disputes. Eleven international judges, who are experts in commercial law, have been appointed to work alongside judges here for the SICC.
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