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Justice Vincent Hoong: Speech delivered at Conversations with the Community on 24 January 2024

SINGAPORE COURTS – CONVERSATIONS WITH THE COMMUNITY

“Access to Justice – Delivering Quality Justice to the Community”

Justice Vincent Hoong
Presiding Judge, State Courts of Singapore


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen, 

I.     Introduction

1.     A very good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for this third instalment of the Singapore Courts’ “Conversations with the Community” series. The topic of our conversation today is “Access to Justice – Delivering Quality Justice to the Community”.

2.     Access to Justice, or “A2J” for short, is a vast subject that can command endless discussion depending on whom you are talking to.(1) 

3.     What I propose to do this afternoon, is to focus on the courts’ role in advancing access to justice in respect of private disputes and the civil justice system. While ensuring access to justice is important to the effective functioning of the criminal justice system, for the person in the street and the community-at-large, their main concern is likely to be how they can seek and obtain justice in their disputes. In my remarks, I will focus on the civil justice system as this is where their main interaction with the courts for their disputes takes place. 

4.    I should also touch on an equally important question that is, who is this “community?” Here, general definitions of “community law” may be useful, even though it is not a term of art or one that has a specialised meaning amongst the legal profession. The Law Society, in their listing of practitioners in various fields, suggests that “community law” includes matters concerning accidents and personal injury, landlord and tenant law, employment law, family law, wills and probate, amongst others.(2) An academic has suggested that “community law” refers to areas of legal practice “that [do] not play a major role in GDP but [are] essential to any decent community.(3)   

5.     That said, I do not think that the precise contours of “community law” are vital to our understanding for our conversation today. What is more important is that those faced with “community law” disputes are less likely to have the means or even the desire to hire lawyers to help them. This could be for various reasons, such as: a belief that their dispute is simple and straightforward; the costs being disproportionate to the value of the dispute; legal aid being unavailable;(4) or a belief that the legal resources available online can enable them to navigate the justice system on their own. 

6.     I think that the last of these is particularly significant. The proportion of those who choose to present their cases on their own has been on the rise.(5) We should not underestimate the extent to which this is attributable to them feeling that they are the “masters of their fates and captains of their souls”, to quote William Ernest Henley in Invictus. This can also be the result of not just legal information – but also legal analysis – being increasingly available online.(6) 

7.     As these resources continue to increase in accessibility and in quality, we should expect the number of self-represented persons to rise. After all, such resources are empowering and when people are empowered, they naturally feel more confident to take their own steps. Our system must not only be able to cope with this reality but thrive in this new paradigm.

8.     With this in mind, I will address three broad areas:

(a)    First, I will speak briefly on the challenges of accessing and using a traditional system of civil justice faced by a self-represented person. 

(b)    Second, I will touch on how the system has changed over the years making it not only easier to access and use, but also better able to deliver quality civil justice to the community. 

(c)    I will round off briefly on how our courts are looking to the future, towards further enhancing access to the civil justice system.

II.     Accessing and using a traditional system of civil justice

9.    The traditional system of civil justice was designed with judges and lawyers in mind.(7) As such, it has created numerous barriers and challenges to those who are not legally trained. These barriers do not just start in court. They exist well before a person even steps foot into a courtroom.

(a)   First, before we can even access the justice system, we need to be able to recognise that we have some legal interest to protect. Most of us have a sense of what feels “unfair” but confirming this in a court of law is not always easy. The law may not necessarily match our individual expectations of what is “unfair”, or we may not even realise that our issue is one capable of a legal solution. There may therefore be a literacy gap or, as the Chief Justice has described it, a lack of “legal literacy” that prevents us from accurately recognising our legal interests.(8) 

(b)   Second, even if we identify that we have a legal interest to protect, we then need to know where we can go or, in some cases, where we have to go, to seek protection of this interest. This is another aspect of the literacy gap that concerns the workings of the legal system more generally.

(c)   Third, further supposing that we are able to overcome this legal literacy gap, we still have to assess whether to resort to the civil justice process at all. In making this assessment, we are likely to have to consider our finances and our standing in life, which, in turn, may give rise to an additional psychological barrier.(9) 

(d)   Finally, even supposing that we have managed to overcome all of these difficulties and have chosen to go to court to protect our interests, we need to know what to do in a practical sense – where to go, what information is required, what documents to bring and how to file our documents. These questions not only add to the legal literacy gap, but may also give rise to a perception of technological and physical barriers. 

10.     Let us suppose that we have managed to overcome these difficulties and filed our case as a self-represented person. There will still be challenges in using the traditional system:

(a)   First, we would have to comply with the processes leading up to the hearing of the dispute. Even if we find the processes difficult, the court cannot bend its rules or procedures or dispense with compliance just because we are self-represented. So, not only will we have to navigate the rules, but we will also need to do so in a manner that is meaningful and productive. Simply knowing the general principles of legal practice in the abstract will not help us to manage our case effectively.

(b)   Second, traditional civil proceedings usually require substantial document work, such as drafting pleadings to set out our case, discovery of documents, and applications to resolve preliminary issues before trial. If we are not legally trained, not only will we need time to understand these processes, but we will also need to make time to carry them out. This will necessarily involve much time reading, writing, gathering documents, and making trips to the courthouse to file documents. This can become an economic barrier if it takes us away from our work.

(c)   Finally, even if we manage to effectively navigate the interlocutory stage of traditional civil proceedings, there is still the trial. A trial that is not handled well – even for a potentially meritorious case – may still result in an unsuccessful claim or defence. It is vital that we handle it well. But this can be particularly challenging because it engages a totally different set of knowledge and skills from the pre-trial process. We will have to take even more time out for learning and preparation. 

11.     All of this is a lot – a lot to understand, to manage, and to get through. In fact, most lawyers spend years getting to grips with every aspect of the civil justice process. It is not reasonable to expect the community to undergo a crash course on how to run a civil dispute, while managing their lives. A more effective way is to ensure that there are alternative, simpler processes for the community to get access to quality civil justice. 

III.     The community’s access and use of the civil justice system today

12.     This brings me neatly to how the civil justice system has been evolving over the years to become more court user-centric,(10) and how, today, it facilitates the community’s access to and use of the system. 

13.     I will begin with how these changes have addressed the barriers that limit our ability to access the system. After that, I will turn to the changes that improve our use of the system once we are in it.

A.     Accessing the system: Knowing is half the battle

14.     As I said earlier, there are barriers that can make it hard for us to access the civil justice system even before we set foot in the courts. Most of these barriers concern the legal literacy gap and, as such, I think knowing is half the battle won. But it is important to emphasise that there are two types of information we need to close this gap. 

(a)    First, the information we need to decide whether we can or should access the civil justice system. 

(b)    Second, how to go about doing so.

15.    These barriers are distinct. It is fundamentally important that the courts approach each of them differently. While the courts can and do play a proactive role in making sure that justice is accessible,(11) the courts must remain neutral and impartial in the dispute. The Judiciary and individual judges generally cannot assist a person with a dispute to answer the first question of whether he or she can or should access the justice system. Doing so veers into providing legal advice, which the courts cannot give. 

16.     However, this does not mean that the courts do not have a role in addressing these questions. The courts can still provide general legal information to help members of the community to make their own assessment. For example, the Motor Accident Claims Online (“MACO”), was launched back in 2020 to help the community obtain free and quick assessments on who might be at fault for personal injuries suffered in motor accidents. In 2021, a module was added so that users could also obtain assessments of the amount of monetary compensation they or their counterparty might be liable for. While these assessments are non-binding, they help users decide on the best course of action. I am happy to report that more than 13,000 individual simulations have been run on MACO since its launch.(12) From this, we can see that it has helped at least some members of the community with the decision-making process. 

17.     The courts can also facilitate other stakeholders in their efforts to support A2J in the community. Presently, it does so in at least two ways.

(a)    First, not all court users know that Pro Bono SG(13) and other organisations operate free legal clinics for the community in Singapore. The courts bridge this literacy gap by disseminating such information.(14) Even within the courthouse, court users can turn to the Community Justice Centre (“CJC”) whose office is located at the State Courts. The CJC houses an on-site legal clinic which provides free and immediate basic legal advice.(15) It also runs the Primary Justice Project (“PJP”) which, for a relatively low fixed fee, helps members of the community explore the possibility of settling certain types of disputes without resorting to the courts.(16) 

(b)   Second, the State Courts has also partnered Pro Bono SG to conduct a series of webinars to familiarise volunteer lawyers with tribunal proceedings. Although, as I will explain in a moment, legal representation is not available for most tribunal proceedings, members of the community are free to seek legal advice on procedural matters and the merits of their positions. It is therefore vital that volunteer lawyers are properly equipped to dispense appropriate advice. More than 300 lawyers attended the first webinar last year on proceedings in the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (“CDRT”) which deals with neighbour disputes, and plans are already underway for the next webinar, which will cover civil proceedings in the Protection from Harassment Court (“PHC”). 

18.     Where the courts can and have played a bigger role is in ensuring that the community not only knows how to access the civil justice system, but also understands that it is not complex or inaccessible. “Self-help guides” have been published on numerous areas of interest to the community, such as general civil claims, employment claims, claims relating to neighbour disputes, claims for harassment, and so on.(17) These are detailed guides that take readers through everything from jurisdiction to enforcement. To make the information easier to understand, there are plans for accompanying instructional videos to be put up. 

19.     The courts have also revamped the IT systems to enable community claims to be filed online 24 hours, every day of the year. The Community Justice and Tribunals System (“CJTS”) was introduced for the various tribunals and the Protection from Harassment Court.(18) The CJTS is an end-to-end electronic filing and case management system, with Online Dispute Resolution capabilities. It assists court users by guiding them through the entire court process, from the time they file the claim to the time the order of court is generated. It allows them to manage their cases online. It also facilitates the hearing of cases remotely without requiring personal attendance in court. Systems like CJTS, which allow for instant verification using SingPass or CorpPass, are not only simple to use, but are readily available on personal mobile devices. This ability to file and access cases and documents from any location at any time removes the inconvenience of a user having to come physically to the courthouse, especially for those who are unable to make time to do so. They ease a very tangible administrative burden, and free up valuable time for our court users.

B.     Using the system: Doing is the other half

20.     Of course, knowing how to access the civil justice system and managing to do so is only half the battle. Doing is the other half, which brings me to the types of simplified proceedings in the courts, and how they have enhanced A2J for the community.

21.     As a starting point, we must recognise that the traditional civil justice system has its place within the wider system, especially when dealing with complex or high value disputes. The rigour of the civil process ensures that such disputes are handled fairly(19) and in a structured manner. However, its full rigour does not always need to be applied. It can be scaled down for lower value or simpler disputes, which tend to be those more frequently faced by the community.

22.     The current system has a range of simplified processes, depending on the community’s civil justice needs. First, there are what we call “general simplified proceedings”, which have been available in the Magistrates’ Courts since 2014,(20) and were extended to District Court proceedings last December. (21) They target two pain points of ordinary civil proceedings – pre-trial applications and length of trial. They are aimed at making the process more manageable for self-represented persons. For example, parties are not required to go through the disclosure of documents process, which can be time-consuming and cumbersome especially when the documents involved are numerous. Judges also adopt a more robust case management approach to ensure that parties are better prepared to be ready for trial. And, perhaps more importantly, it is also designed to facilitate parties to settle their disputes without trial.(22) Of course, parties do not have to settle, but if they are amenable to negotiating a settlement, having an environment which supports that goal is crucial. After all, having access to quality civil justice does not necessarily mean justice obtained through a judicial decision which is by its very nature, usually a winner-takes-all outcome.

23.     Beyond this, there are even simpler proceedings available in the specialist tribunals and courts, namely, the Small Claims Tribunals (“SCT”), the Employment Claims Tribunals (“ECT”), as well as the CDRT and the PHC. The type of simplification in these specialist bodies is quite different. They go a long way towards making the civil justice system more user-friendly and ultimately more accessible to the community.

24.     There are five ways in which such specialist courts and tribunals set out to serve the needs of the community: 

(a)    First, it has long been recognised that specialised bodies that serve particular interests of society can enhance A2J.(23) A big part of this is the fact that the judges who run them: (i) can focus on making sure that the processes are effective in enabling a user to ventilate the specific type of dispute in issue, and (ii) are specially trained to address the needs of the parties. 

(b)   Second, the judges of these specialist courts and tribunals adopt robust case management techniques, which typically involve taking a proactive role in unpacking the parties’ positions, identifying issues, and getting in the relevant evidence. Moreover, case management judges also take a proactive role in facilitating settlement. This is very different from what we usually see in typical civil proceedings.

(c)    Third, there is a focus on efficiency and expediency. There are more than 12,000 cases filed in the SCT yearly, and for the ECT, it is around 1,000 cases yearly.(24) Despite the heavy caseload, SCT claims are generally resolved within 4 months, and ECT claims are generally resolved within 6 months.

(d) Fourth, the robust approach also extends to trials, where a judge-led approach is adopted. For example, in SCT trials, the “judge-led” approach requires the tribunal magistrate to “identify the relevant issues in the claim” and “ensure that the relevant evidence is adduced by the parties to the proceedings”.(25) In this context, the tribunal magistrate thus performs an inquisitorial function that is traditionally performed by lawyers in an adversarial system. This ensures that, at the end of the day, substantive justice is done by law and based on the specific facts of the case, and the expediency of the process does not compromise the delivery of quality justice.

(e)   Finally, the participation of lawyers in these specialist proceedings is restricted. For example, representation is not permitted in SCT and ECT proceedings. It is only allowed with permission of the court in the CDRT and in simplified PHC proceedings. This levels the playing field between the parties to the dispute. It alleviates the psychological David-versus-Goliath barrier that can often discourage or deter access.

25.     These features do not just support A2J in theory. The extent to which these specialist bodies have actually enhanced access to civil justice can be seen from the extent to which they have been used.(26) Between 2021 and 2023, more than 34,000 claims were filed in the SCT, ECT, CDRT and PHC alone.(27) In terms of value of the claims, between 2021 and 2023, the total value of the claims filed in the SCT was around $129,000,000, while those filed in the ECT was about $30,000,000.(28) These figures show that a large number of people use and trust these specialist bodies to deliver quality and timely justice to them.

26.     There are also other markers. The Ministry of Health recently announced plans to implement a new framework to prevent and manage the abuse and harassment of healthcare workers. As part of this framework, healthcare institutions are encouraged to support staff who wish to file claims in the PHC.(29) It is encouraging that institutions trust the PHC to protect the safety of our healthcare workers, who are an integral part of our community, effectively and efficiently.

27.     All told, the courts have in place a foundationally sound and trusted system that can deliver quality civil justice to the community. We continually strive to refine, improve, and enhance what we have already achieved with our partners. Such consistent and thoughtful iterations are the means by which we build on our strong foundations and improve the system’s trustworthiness even further. For example, changes to the Community Dispute Management Framework were mooted in Parliament last year. These stand to improve CDRT processes procedurally and address evidential burdens faced by court users.(30) The system does not remain static. It will continue to identify improvements. 

IV.     Towards the future: The courts’ continuing systemic role

28.     This brings me back to the first of this series of conversations, where the Chief Justice spoke on the courts’ dual roles in society – its more well-known adjudicatory role, and its relatively less discussed but no less important systemic role, particularly to “develop and operate a system for the administration of justice that is accessible to all and meets the needs of all”.(31) 

29.     The courts’ systemic role requires it to be proactive. It is for this reason that the courts set up a A2J Programme Office to specifically look into solutions – both major and minor – to enhance access to justice.(32) It is also why the courts are looking at experimental solutions, such as its partnership with the artificial intelligence legal start-up, Harvey, to produce a programme to help the community prepare for SCT proceedings.(33) 

30.     Of course, this is not to ignore the fact that courts are but one participant within a wider ecosystem. Its systemic role is not all-encompassing. There are solutions which are led by other stakeholders to enhance A2J. For example, increasing the provision of legal aid. There are also other solutions which require the courts to partner and collaborate with the Government and its agencies. For example, establishing brand-new specialist tribunals or courts requires the involvement of the courts and needs to be debated and taken through the parliamentary process. Even in these joint endeavours, the courts play an important complementary role in securing tandem, integration, and practical workability, ultimately, to achieve the common goal of enhancing the accessibility of not only justice, but quality justice. These are continuing efforts, and conversation sessions like these are opportunities for the courts to take in the views of the community as well as other stakeholders, as we deliberate on how to enhance the delivery of accessible, quality justice to the community.

31.     On this note, I look forward to the discussion with our panel members, Associate Professor Helena Whalen-Bridge, Ms Vivienne Lim, and Assistant Professor Lim How Khang. Principal District Judge Thian Yee Sze will moderate the discussion. Of course, in the spirit of a conversation, I especially welcome robust questions from our guests.

32.     Thank you very much.

     

    (1) Quite often, that discussion centres on the provision of more legal aid in a wider range of cases: see, for example, Helena Whalen-Bridge, “Access to Justice in Singapore: A Government and Lawyer Dynamic” in The Role of Lawyers in Access to Justice: Asian and Comparative Perspectives (Helena Whalen-Bridge ed) (Cambridge University Press, 2022). A recent example would be the discussions that followed the Government’s announcement in November 2020 that it was looking to establish a public defender’s office: see, for example, Fabian Koh, “Fully Govt-Funded Legal Aid has its Challenges: Legal Fraternity” (The Straits Times, 6 November 2020) <accessible here: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/challenges-facing-fully-govt-funded-legal-aid-but-initiative-a-crucial-step-for-singapores>, Selina Lum, “Access to Justice: Pros and Cons of a Public Defender’s Office” (The Straits Times, 16 April 2022) <accessible here: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/public-prosecutor-v-public-defender>, and Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (1 August 2022) vol 95 <accessible here: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/#/sprs3topic?reportid=bill-584 and https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/#/sprs3topic?reportid=bill-585 in two parts>.
    (2) See The Law Society of Singapore (Website), “Find a Lawyer” – “Community Law” <accessible here: https://www.lawsociety.org.sg/find-lawyer/community-law/>; also see Thio Shen Yi SC, “President’s Message” (Law Gazette, March 2015) <accessible here: https://v1.lawgazette.com.sg/2015-03/>.
    (3) Simon Chesterman, “Too Many Lawyers? Or Too Few?” (The Straits Times, 1 November 2014) <accessible here: https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/too-many-lawyers-or-too-few>. 
    (4) On this, consider reading: Jacoba Brasch, “Access to Justice: Meeting the Need of the ‘Missing Middle’”, speech delivered by the President of the Law Council of Australia at the Annual Gold Coast Legal Conference (11 June 2021) <accessible here: https://lawcouncil.au/publicassets/c1f31428-8fcd-eb11-943d-005056be13b5/2021-06-11-SP-Access-to-justice-meeting-the-need-of-the-missing-middle.pdf>
    (5) See Jaclyn Neo and Helena Whalen-Bridge, Litigants in Person: Principles and Practice in Civil and Family Matters in Singapore (Academy Publishing, 2021) at para 1.12, referenced in Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Role of the Judiciary in a Changing World”, address delivered at the inaugural Supreme Court of India Day Annual Lecture (4 February 2023) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/chief-justice-sundaresh-menon-speech-delivered-at-the-inaugural-supreme-court-of-india-day-lecture> (“The Role of the Judiciary in a Changing World”) at para 19; also see Jaclyn Neo and Helena Whalen-Bridge, “Rebalancing the Scales to Enhance Access to Justice for the Layman” (The Straits Times, 12 May 2022) <accessible here: https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/rebalancing-the-scales-to-enhance-access-to-justice-for-the-layman>.
    (6) In March last year, OpenAI released GPT-4 which it said was able to beat 90% of humans taking the Uniform Bar Exam administered in the US: see John Koetsier, “GPT-4 Beats 90% of Lawyers Trying to Pass the Bar” (Forbes, 14 March 2023) <accessible here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoetsier/2023/03/14/gpt-4-beats-90-of-lawyers-trying-to-pass-the-bar/?sh=64b53ce03027>. There are, of course, caveats to this. For example, many will be familiar with the case which saw a US lawyer using ChatGPT to write his legal submissions, and it cited “hallucinated” cases: see Benjamin Weiser, “Here’s What Happens When Your Lawyer Uses ChatGPT” (The New York Times, 27 May 2023) <accessible here: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/27/nyregion/avianca-airline-lawsuit-chatgpt.html>. And, even if we do fact-check, that does not necessarily mean that the substantive content generated is good. GPT-4 reportedly scored relatively less well in the Graduate Record Examinations writing test – it was at the 54th percentile. This is a general critical and analytical writing test that requires candidates to analyse issues and arguments, skills which are fundamental in the law.
    (7) The Role of the Judiciary in a Changing World (supra note 5) at para 38.
    (8) Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “Technology and the Changing Face of Justice”, address delivered at the Negotiation and Conflict Management Group (NCMG) ADR Conference 2019 (14 November 2019) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/chief-justice-sundaresh-menon-keynote-lecture-delivered-at-the-negotiation-and-conflict-management-group-(ncmg)-adr-conference-2019-technology-and-the-changing-face-of-justice-on-14-november-2019> at para 25; also see, for example, Leon Mayhew, “Institutions of Representation: Civil Justice and the Public” (1975) 9(3) Law & Society Review 401 at p 406 (“[t]here exists… an aggregate of interests and claims and potential problems; some are well-understood by members of the population, while others are perceived dimly or not at all”).
    (9) See, for example, Mauro Cappelletti and Bryant Garth, “Access to Justice: The Newest Wave in the Worldwide Movement to Make Rights Effective” (1978) 27(1) Buffalo Law Review 181 (“The Newest Wave”) at p 192 (“… This lack of knowledge, in turn, relates to a third major barrier—the psychic willingness of people to resort to legal procedures. Even those who know how to find qualified legal advice may not do so. The English study, for example, made the striking finding that ‘[a]s many as 11 per cent of our respondents said they would never go to a lawyer.’ Aside from this outright distrust of lawyers, especially prevalent among low income classes, there are other obvious reasons why formal litigation is considered so unattractive. Complicated procedures, detailed forms, intimidating courtrooms and overbearing judges and lawyers make the litigant feel lost, a prisoner in an alien world”).
    (10) The Role of the Judiciary in a Changing World (supra note 5) at para 37.
    (11) Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Role of the Courts in Our Society – Safeguarding Society”, opening address at the first session of the Singapore Courts’ Conversations with the Community series (21 September 2023) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/conversations-with-the-community-21st-september-2023> (“The Role of the Courts in Our Society”) at para 3. On this topic, also consider reading: Sir Ernest Ryder, “Assisting Access to Justice”, address delivered at Keele University (15 March 2018) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/speech-ryder-spt-keele-uni-march2018.pdf> at paras 12–31.
    (12) SG Courts, Annual Report 2021 at <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/publications> p 28 (“From launch up till 31 May 2022, the liability simulator recorded 6,654 individual simulations while the quantum simulator recorded 7,080 individual simulations, for a total of 13,734 individual simulations.”) 
    (13) See Pro Bono SG (Website), “Legal Guidance” <accessible here: https://www.probono.sg/get-legal-help/legal-guidance/>. 
    (14) See, for example, SG Courts (Website), “Legal Help and Support” – “Seek Help for a Civil Case” <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/legal-help-support/civil-case>.
    (15) See Community Justice Centre (Website), “On-Site Legal Clinic (OSLAS)” <accessible here: https://cjc.org.sg/services/legal-services/on-site-legal-clinic-oslas/>.
    (16) See Community Justice Centre (Website), “Primary Justice Project (PJP)” <accessible here: https://cjc.org.sg/services/legal-services/primary-justice-project/>.
    (17) See SG Courts (Website), “Self-help guides”, which includes subpages for “Civil” matters, “Family” matters, “Criminal” matters as well as “Alternatives to Trial” <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/>.
    (18) CJTS was introduced for the Small Claims Tribunals in 2017: see State Courts, “Media Release: State Courts enhance small claims process” (10 July 2017) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/media-release-state-courts-enhance-small-claims-process>. It was introduced for the Community Dispute Resolution Tribunal in 2018: see State Courts, “Media Release: State Courts launch online filing for neighbour disputes” (5 February 2018) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/media-release-state-courts-launch-online-filing-for-neighbour-disputes>. It was introduced for the Employment Claims Tribunal in 2019: see State Courts, “Media Release: State Courts launch online filing for employment claims” (4 January 2019) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/media-release-state-courts-launch-online-filing-for-employment-claims>. In 2021, when the Prevention from Harassment Court was established, simplified proceedings there in were added to the CJTS: see Ministry of Law and State Courts, “Joint media release: Quicker, more effective remedies against harassment with new protection from harassment court from 1 June 2021” (31 May 2021) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/joint-media-release-quicker-more-effective-remedies-against-harassment-with-new-protection-from-harassment-court-from-1-june-2021>.
    (19) See, eg, United Overseas Bank Ltd v Ng Huat Foundations Pte Ltd [2005] 2 SLR(R) 425; [2005] SGHC 50 at [8] (“The quest for justice … entails a continuous need to balance the procedural with the substantive. … Both interact with each other [and] [o]ne cannot survive without the other. There must, therefore, be – as far as is possible – a fair and just procedure that leads to a fair and just result. … When in doubt, the courts would do well to keep these bedrock principles in mind. … [T]his is how, I believe, laypersons perceive the administration of justice … [and] [t]he legitimacy of the law in their eyes must never be compromised.”). On the importance of procedural fairness to the protection of substantive legal rights, also see Denis James Galligan, Due Process and Fair Procedures: A Study of Administrative Procedures (Clarendon Press, 1996) (“Due Process and Fair Procedures”) at pp 100–102.
    (20) See Order 108 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R5, 2014 Rev Ed) introduced in 2014 by Rules of Court (Amendment No 4) Rules 2014. Now, see Rules of Court 2021, Order 65. Also see The Role of the Courts in Our Society (supra note 12) at para 40; Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “Procedure, Practice and the Pursuit of Justice”, keynote address at the Litigation Conference 2022 (5 May 2022) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/docs/default-source/news-docs/litigation-conference-2022-keynote-2022-04-26-(final).pdf> at paras 11–12; and SG Courts (website), “Case Conference in the State Courts” – “The Simplified Process Framework” <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/civil/civil-claims-(from-1-april-2022)/prepare-a-civil-case-for-trial-(from-1-april-2022)/attend-a-civil-case-conference-(from-1-april-2022)/case-conference-in-the-state-courts/the-simplified-process-framework>.
    (21) Response by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the Opening of the Legal Year 2024 (8 January 2024) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/chief-justice-sundaresh-menon-response-delivered-at-the-opening-of-the-legal-year-2024> (“CJ’s Response at OLY 2024”) at para 19.
    (22) Chiah Kok Khun, “A Primer on the Simplified Civil Process for Magistrate’s Court Cases” (Law Gazette, April 2016) <accessible here: https://v1.lawgazette.com.sg/2016-04/>.
    (23) The Newest Wave (supra note 10) at pp 238–277.
    (24) Singapore Courts Annual Reports 2021 and 2022, “Statistics”. 
    (25) Small Claims Tribunals Act 1984 (2020 Rev Ed), s 22(2); for the ECT, CDRT and PHC respectively, see Employment Claims Act 2016 (2020 Rev Ed), s 20(3), Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals Rules 2015, r 12, and Supreme Court of Judicature (Protection from Harassment) Rules 2021, r 28(2).
    (26) Also see Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, “The Role of Tribunals in the Delivery of Justice: Charting a Course for the Future”, Address Delivered at the Inaugural Tribunals Conference (26 April 2022) <accessible here: https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/news-and-resources/news/news-details/chief-justice-sundaresh-menon-keynote-address-delivered-at-the-inaugural-tribunals-conference> at para 2. 
    (27) In 2021, 9,280 claims were filed in the SCT, 997 claims were filed in the ECT, 237 claims were filed in the CDRT, and 434 claims were filed in the PHC (this totals 10,948). In 2022, 9,113 claims were filed in the SCT, 999 claims were filed in the ECT, 189 claims were filed in the CDRT, and 552 claims were filed in the PHC (this totals 10,853). In 2023, 10,288 claims were filed in the SCT, 1,216 claims were filed in the ECT, 182 claims were filed in the CDRT, and 562 claims were filed in the PHC (this totals 12,248).
    (28) In 2021, about $39,000,000 and $9,000,000 in worth of claims were filed in the SCT and ECT respectively. In 2022, the figures were close to $40,000,000 and $9,000,000 respectively. In 2023, the figures were around $50,000,000 and $12,000,000 respectively.
    (29) Lee Li Ying, “Healthcare Workers need Better Protection from Abuse; New Measures in Place by June 2024: Ong Ye Kung” (The Straits Times, 14 December 2023) <accessible: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/healthcare-workers-need-better-protection-from-abuse-new-measures-in-place-by-june-ong-ye-kung>.
    (30) See, for example, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Ministry of Law, and Ministry of National Development, “Public Consultation Paper on the Proposed Enhancements to the Community Dispute Management Framework” (May 2023) <accessible here: https://www.reach.gov.sg/Participate/Public-Consultation/Ministry-of-Culture-Community-and-Youth/public-consultation-paper-on-the-proposed-enhancements-to-the-community-dispute-management-framework>; and Minister Edwin Tong SC, “Response by Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong at the Committee of Supply Debate 2023” (27 February 2023) <accessible here: https://www.mlaw.gov.sg/news/parliamentary-speeches/response-by-2m-edwin-tong-cos-2023/>.
    (31) Role of the Courts in Our Society (supra note 12) at para 3; also see CJ’s Response at OLY 2024 (supra note 22) at paras 13–16.
    (32) Also see CJ’s Response at OLY 2024 (supra note 22) at para 18.
    (33) Lee Li Ying, “Small Claims Tribunals to Roll out AI Program to Guide Users through Legal Processes” (The Straits Times, 27 September 2023) <accessible here: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/small-claims-tribunal-to-roll-out-ai-program-to-guide-users-through-legal-processes>; also see CJ’s Response at OLY 2024 (supra note 22) at para 34.

2024/02/21

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