The new Rules of Court 2021 (“ROC 2021”), gazetted on 1 December 2021, will be implemented from 1 April 2022 to transform the litigation process by modernising it, and enhancing the efficiency and speed of adjudication, while maintaining legal costs at reasonable levels. This follows a public consultation on the Civil Justice Reform proposals conducted from 26 October 2018 to 31 January 2019, with a joint consultation report released on 11 June 2021. To allow the Bar and court users to gain familiarity with the new Rules, there will be a transitional learning phase from 1 April 2022 to 30 June 2022.
2 The ROC 2021 is part of the civil justice reforms and the culmination of the work of two committees, namely, the Civil Justice Commission (“CJC”) set up by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and the Civil Justice Review Committee (“CJRC”) established by the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”). They comprise members of the Singapore Judiciary, representatives from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, senior practitioners from the Bar and academics. Both committees were broadly tasked with studying reforms to our civil justice landscape given the demands and challenges of the future.
3 The ROC 2021 seeks to enhance Singapore’s civil justice system by simplifying rules and modernising the language, streamlining procedural steps and enabling greater judicial control of the entire litigation process. This ensures that the civil justice landscape is progressive and takes into account changing needs, technological developments and industry trends.
4 The ROC 2021 are underpinned by “Ideals” which the Court must seek to achieve when making orders or giving directions. All parties have the duty to assist the Court and to conduct their cases in a manner which will help achieve the following five “Ideals”:
(i) Fair access to justice;
(ii) Expeditious proceedings;
(iii) Cost-effective work proportionate to the nature and importance of the action, the complexity of the claim as well as the difficulty or novelty of the issues and questions it raises as well as the amount or value of the claim;
(iv) Efficient use of Court resources; and
(v) Fair and practical results suited to the needs of the parties.
5 To achieve the “Ideals”, a key aspect of ROC 2021 is its emphasis on case management. Case Conferences will be the key plank to case management, with Judges and Registrars having close control over the manner in which a case progresses.
6 We highlight a few of the salient features in ROC 2021:
(i) As far as possible, the Court must order a Single Application Pending Trial to deal with all matters that are necessary for the case to proceed expeditiously. This seeks to prevent parties from litigating in a step-by-step fashion and, in the process, generating a host of interlocutory applications and appeals, which increases costs for parties and the time taken before a case is ready for trial.
(ii) The Court may order affidavits-of-evidence-in-chief before production of documents.
(iii) Parties are to inform the Court during the Registrar Case Conference if they intend to rely on expert evidence. The Court will not approve the use of expert evidence unless it will contribute materially to the determination of any issue in the case and the issue cannot be resolved. Parties will be encouraged to agree on the common set of assumed facts upon which the experts are to give their opinion.
For the key highlights of ROC 2021, please refer to the Infographics in ANNEX.
7 To assist court users and the Bar in navigating the ROC 2021, various collaterals such as short informative digests, a primer setting out key features and infographics are available on the Singapore Courts website at www.judiciary.gov.sg.
8 Welcoming the implementation of the ROC 2021, Chief Justice Menon said, “While Singapore has a world-class civil litigation system, we must continue to review and improve our system to better serve the needs of our society. After carefully considering the constructive feedback that was received from a range of stakeholders following the public consultation, we have refined and developed the initial recommendations of the CJC and CJRC, and this is now reflected in the ROC 2021. The new Rules demonstrate our commitment to developing a forward-looking legal system while maintaining the costs of litigation at reasonable levels. They will also help us achieve the crucial goal of reducing the complexity of legal proceedings and streamlining our court processes to further improve access to justice. We will continue the work of reviewing the new Rules as we gain experience from implementing them.”
Supreme Court and the State Courts of Singapore
1 December 2021