The Family Justice Practice Forum 2017: Family Justice 2020 – Through the Right Doors (“the Forum”), was held on 14 July 2017 at the Supreme Court Auditorium. Jointly organised by the FJC, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Law Society of Singapore, the Forum brings together eminent experts from the legal, psychological and social science sectors to discuss the family justice practice. The Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who opened the Forum, stressed the critical role of the family lawyer within the family justice eco-system and highlighted 3 key aspects in his opening address:
i. The evolving role of the family lawyer.
As a first responder, the lawyer is strategically placed within the eco-system to play an influential role in enabling parties to adopt the initiatives that have been introduced to enhance the family justice system and dampening legal conflict. The Chief Justice explained the evolving role that lawyer plays in respect of the latest judicial developments and initiatives, in particular the supporting role they play in facilitating the judge-led approach to problem-solve together throughout the litigation process. Lawyers play multiple roles – serve as trouble-shooters, advisors, educators and even represent the voice of the child through the child representative scheme – as they guide their clients in making constructive decisions i.e. encouraging mediation and counselling to achieve more sustainable outcomes, in navigating their way through the family justice system and beyond.
ii. Need for a mindset change
. The Chief Justice also pointed out that a change in mindset is required for the appreciation of this evolving role. Contemporary best practice lawyering in family work recognises the role of lawyers as problem-solvers, working collaboratively in a multidisciplinary environment with other partners within the family justice system. Increasingly lawyers have evolved beyond the confines of traditional adversarial action towards interest-based negotiation and creative problem-solving approaches in order to protect the true and broad interests of clients and the family.
Progressing in tandem with a less-adversarial model of family justice, family lawyers are evolving beyond their traditional roles as advocates for their clients. They need to concurrently be sensitive to the welfare of the child or vulnerable adult at the heart of the case in addition to the familial relationships that continue thereafter. In this regard, the Chief Justice spoke about the importance of ethics in guiding lawyering and touched on how there will soon be a set of professional conduct rules and a Best Practices Guide to help family lawyers navigate the difficult ethical issues they are confronted with due to the many competing demands they face.
Harnessing technology and design ideas for family justice
2. To meet the future needs of family justice, FJC is also actively harnessing technology and design ideas to improve the user experience and make family justice accessible to all. To this end FJC has launched the iFAMS system - an electronic case management system for Personal Protection and Maintenance cases to facilitate applications. It has also launched a new Family Protection Centre (“FPC”) to provide applicants of protection orders a more private and calming space to manage their applications.
3. The iFAMS system facilitates greater access to justice as parties are now able to begin their interaction with the Courts from within the Community, getting the help they need in more familiar and convenient surroundings at designated specialist family centres. They can even prepare their applications from home before choosing to file them either at the Courts or at the designated specialist family centres (See Annex A for details
4. The FPC is a dedicated space at the FJC offering those exposed to family violence more privacy and comfort when applying for Personal Protection Orders. The FPC is able to handle PPO applications seamlessly and comprehensively as applicants can go through all the necessary stages at this one-stop centre with simplified applications forms, risk assessment with a counsellor and facilities for affirmation of the supporting declarations before a judge (See Annex B for details
The Family Justice Practice Forum 2017
5. About 350 participants comprising family lawyers, policy makers, mental health professionals and social workers attended the event. The Forum focuses on the family practitioner and how they can better serve the needs of troubled families going forward in the context of the family justice system. The theme of the event encapsulates the frame of our work, whether within the Courts or in the family justice community, we seek to help families go through the right doors to bring about a measure of healing and a new way forward. The family practitioner, whether a lawyer, policy maker, social worker or mental professional, is an integral part of this search for access to justice using the right door. Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin delivered remarks on the family justice eco-system.
6. Speaking on what lies ahead for family justice, The Chief Justice said, “The future of family law is bright. It promises many professional opportunities to those committed to this fascinating area of practice; but it also calls for a fresh mindset and perspective. We on the Bench will continue to pay close attention to the growth and development of a Family Justice eco-system that is responsive to the needs of our people and that seeks to minimise the harm to our future by paying special attention to the affected children”.
FAMILY JUSTICE COURTS
14 JULY 2017
About the Family Justice Courts
Established in 2014, the Family Justice Courts (“FJC”) are a restructure of our Court system to better serve litigants by bringing together all family related work under a specialised body of courts. The FJC is comprised of the Family Division of the High Court, the Family Courts and the Youth Courts and is administered by the Presiding Judge of the FJC. The cases dealt with by the FJC include those relating to divorce and ancillary matters, family violence, maintenance, adoption and guardianship, youth court, mental capacity and probate and succession. Its mission is to make justice accessible to families and youth through effective counselling, mediation and adjudication.
Ms Elyana Mohd Ishak
Assistant Director, Office of Public Affairs
Ms Christie Goh
Senior Assistant Director, Office of Public Affairs
FACT SHEET 1 iFAMS System
1. The integrated Family Application Management System (iFAMS) is a comprehensive end-to-end system for family protection¹ and maintenance² order cases brought before the Family Justice Courts. iFAMS covers electronic case filing, tracking, workflow routing, case hearing and generation of electronic letters, Court Orders and statistical reports. This paperless system, which can be expanded in future to include other family court related applications and will be integrated with the systems of our partners within the eco-system, serves as a technological backbone to enable the strategic growth of the family justice system as we get it “future-ready”.
2. The iFAMS system increases access to justice and provides an improved experience for users by offering them more options at the various stages of application and a better case management system. The key features of the system are as follows:
3. Online Preparation
. Users can now prepare their application (for personal protection orders and maintenance) from the comfort of their own home via their personal computer using SingPass. Alternatively users can choose at their convenience to prepare their application using their smartphone or choose to file at FJC at a self-help kiosk.
4. Submission. In addition to submitting their applications at FJC, for convenience, users can now submit their applications at authorised agencies³ near them or through their lawyers. Payments of prescribed fees for the applications can be made online using e-nets or credit card (to be activated in the coming few weeks).
¹ The number of fresh applications for personal protection orders (PPO) is 2,885 in 2015 and 2811 in 2016 (figure for 2016 is subject to revision).
² The number of fresh applications for maintenance is 1,504 in 2015 and 1,434 in 2016 (figure for 2016 is subject to revision).
³ Authorised agencies for application of personal protection order are the following Family Violence Specialist Centres - PAVE, TRANS SAFE Centre, and Care Corner Project StART).The authorised agency for application of maintenance order or application to enforce an existing maintenance order is the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. The authorised agencies for application to enforce an existing maintenance order that is related to divorce proceedings are HELP Family Service Centre and PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre.
The system offers other value-added services. It allows users to make applications online, for example changes to court dates and alert them on outcomes via SMS. It also enables users to check on case status, submit court statements or affidavits and documents in support of their cases, and request copies of court-related documents either before or upon case completion.
Phase 2 (to be completed by 1st half of 2018)
6. Improved Case Management
. The system will be integrated with other case management systems within the Courts i.e. the e-Litigation system and the State Court’s ICMS system and this allows staff to have seamless access to data across platforms. Further, the system enables multiple parties to view the e-case file at the same time. Court Notices, Summonses and Court Orders are auto-generated resulting in savings in processing time and costs as well as reduction in human errors.
7. During the second phase of the project, the iFAMS system will be integrated with platforms of external agencies such as Ministry for Social and Family Services (MSF), Singapore Police Force (SPF), Singapore Prison Services (SPS) and Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) so that relevant information can shared effectively across agencies to enhance efficiency and consistency when serving the public. The system will also generate statistical reports such as case volumes to enable staff to monitor and better utilise courts’ resources in serving the public.
FACT SHEET 2 The Family Protection Centre
1. The new Family Protection Centre (“FPC”) set up within the Family Justice Courts offers a self-contained area which allows for applicants of personal protection orders (“PPO”) to advance along the intake, counselling and affirmation stages seamlessly.
2. This one-stop centre is designed to offer more privacy, comfort and a sense of certainty to applicants. Together with newly streamlined processes and the iFAMS, the Centre aims to enhance the user experience for applicants.
3. The key features of the FPC are as follows:
- One-stop centre for application for personal protection order⁴ – minimises movement and offer a sense of certainty to applicants
- Videolink capability – appearance before a Judge can be conducted via video instead of face-to-face which offer flexibility and convenience.
- Additional Assistance – Courts Friends from the Community Justice Centre are on hand to assist applicants who need assistance
- Availability of self-help kiosks on-site – provides an additional option for parties to browse information and file applications
- Design features such as frosted glass entrance and enclosed counters aim to enhance privacy for applicants
⁴ The number of fresh applications for personal protection orders (PPO) is 2,885 in 2015 and 2811 in 2016 (figure for 2016 is subject to revision).