A NEW division of the State Courts to oversee community disputes was launched yesterday, in a move to better accommodate issues and needs peculiar to different cases.
The Community Justice and Tribunals Division will consist of the Small Claims Tribunal and the new Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRTs), which will be set up in the third quarter of the year under the Community Disputes Resolution Act passed last month.
The new division will also administer the Protection from Harassment Act that took effect last November, and provides civil and criminal recourse for victims of harassment.
Speaking at the State Courts Workplan 2015 yesterday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said "providing tailored justice for court users" will be integral to the courts' thinking.
"Tailored justice refers to the development of different pathways for the resolution of matters with different processes and emphases, depending on the nature of the cases that come before us," he said.
The CDRTs, he noted, will resolve disputes between neighbours through simple processes, at low cost and without lawyers.
Hearings at the tribunals, meant to serve as a final resort after community mediation efforts have been exhausted, will be kept informal and led by judges.
CJ Menon said legal assistance schemes will be improved this year. The Law Society is enhancing its Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (Clas) for the poor and needy who are unable to afford a lawyer.
The society will assign more pro bono lawyers to accused persons in suitable criminal cases. More details will be shared next month, CJ Menon said.
The courts will also consider extending the primary justice project to accused persons who are on bail but may not qualify for Clas assistance because they do not pass the means test. The project provides basic legal advice for a fee.
Judges will also refer appropriate cases to the guidance-for-plea scheme, where lawyers are assigned to advise self-represented persons.
In addition, a docket system for complex criminal cases will be established to better manage cases and minimise pre-trial delays.
The system - which is already in place at the Supreme Court - identifies and assigns cases to selected senior judges with extensive experience.
In his speech, CJ Menon also paid tribute to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. "Mr Lee saw law and order as inseparable elements that were necessary if we were to build a successful society," he said.
This article was first published on April 25, 2015.
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