Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Desmond Lee, at the Family Justice Practice Forum 2018 today, shared the broad areas that the inter-agency committee tasked to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System (RERF) has been studying and will be consulting stakeholders on. Mr Lee emphasised the importance of introducing more therapeutic and restorative principles in the family justice ecosystem to create better outcomes for families.
RERF Committee’s Key Focus Areas
2 The RERF Committee has identified three key focus areas in the family justice ecosystem which can be enhanced.
(i) Introducing More Upstream Interventions in the Divorce Process
Children often suffer in divorces, especially if they are acrimonious. As divorce is mentally and emotionally draining, parents may not be able to fully understand how an acrimonious divorce process, and the decisions they make on issues like housing and finances, could affect their children. This has both immediate and downstream impact on children. The Committee recommends that upstream interventions, such as providing more pre-filing mediation and counselling, should be strengthened to help reduce acrimony. This could help increase the proportion of uncontested divorces and enable parents to focus more on their children’s well-being.
(ii) Building on the Role of Family Law Practitioners and Judges of the Family Justice Courts
Besides looking at upstream interventions, the Committee also considered how family law practitioners could be equipped to play a greater role in safeguarding the emotional and psychological well-being of families caught in disputes. Lawyers have the potential to act as ‘first responders’ to families in dispute and can help steer families towards more therapeutic and restorative ways of dispute resolution. At the same time, the courts could also be further equipped to ensure that family disputes are resolved in a more therapeutic and restorative manner.
(iii) Making deputyship applications more citizen-centric
With an ageing population and potentially more Singaporeans losing mental capacity as they age, the Committee is studying how deputyship applications could be made more accessible and convenient, and how deputies could be better equipped and supported to execute their roles. This will make it easier for families caring for family members without mental capacity and who may face disputes in decision-making.
Public engagement to seek views on RERF focus areas and recommendations
3 Mr Lee said, “During the RERF Committee discussions, lawyers and social service practitioners exchanged perspectives, uncovering each other’s blind spots and sharpening our thinking, as iron sharpens iron. This is the vision we share as one community: to uphold justice compassionately, and restore broken relationships where possible, positively affirming the value of family that we hold dear.”
4 The Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Law will be engaging more stakeholders and the public over the coming months to obtain feedback when the RERF Committee has submitted their recommendations. More information will be shared in due course.
About the Family Justice Practice Forum
The annual Family Justice Practice Forum, which is held on 2 October this year, has proven to be an excellent platform for experts from the legal, psychological and social science sectors to engender exchange and capacitate collaboration. This year's seminar seeks to inform on the deliberations of the inter-agency committee to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System or RERF Committee in short and to update on developments from various stakeholders. It is a fitting occasion for a calling of kindred as we rally together as a community to help rebuild frayed kindred bonds for distressed families.
About the RERF Committee
The RERF Committee builds on the work of the Committee for Family Justice, and is co-chaired by Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts Justice Debbie Ong, Permanent Secretary for the Minister of Law Mr Ng How Yue and Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Social and Family Development Mr Chew Hock Yong. Other members of the Committee are:
About Therapeutic and Restorative Justice
- Professor Leslie Chew, SC, Dean School of Law, Singapore University of Social Sciences
- Mr Vincent Hoong, Registrar, Supreme Court
- Dr Sudha Nair, Executive Director, Promoting Alternatives to Violence
- Mr Sim Gim Guan, Chief Executive Officer, National Council of Social Service
- Mr Alfred Tan, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Children’s Society
- Ms Michelle Woodworth, Co-chairperson of the Family Law Practice Committee, The Law Society of Singapore
In the context of family justice, therapeutic and restorative justice aims to resolve family disputes through providing more counselling, mediation and conciliation, instead of relying on adversarial litigious means. The emphasis is on healing relationships and re-opening communication channels between family members caught in acrimonious disputes, to achieve more sustained and positive family outcomes.