1 The Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon delivered the Keynote Address for the State Courts Workplan 2016 at the State Courts Auditorium this morning.
2 The theme of the Workplan was “Charting the Future Together”. In the address, His Honour highlighted four areas that the State Courts will be focusing on in the coming year:
(A) Expansion of the State Courts’ core work;
(B) Enhancing effectiveness in the administration of justice;
(C) Enhancing accessibility and the public’s understanding of court processes; and
(D) Leveraging information technology.
3 The initiatives that the State Courts will be introducing in 2016 are aimed at further improving the quality of justice they dispense. The key initiatives include:
Expansion of the State Courts’ core work
(a) Changes to the State Courts’ civil jurisdiction;
(b) Establishment of the Employment Claims Tribunal;
Enhancing effectiveness in the administration of justice
(c) A pre-sentence protocol to address the underlying problems in certain kinds of offending;
(d) An executive programme for court and tribunal administrators to equip them with critical leadership and management capabilities; Page 2
Enhancing accessibility and the public’s understanding of court processes
(e) A State Courts student representatives programme to enhance litigants-in-person’s access to justice
(f) Informational tool kits on the Small Claims Tribunals’ processes
Leveraging information technology
(g) Enhancement of the Integrated Criminal Case Filing and Management System
(h) A Community Justice and Tribunals System for better case management, with online dispute resolution processes for small claims
(i) A Justice@StateCourts mobile app to provide informational services
Issued by: State Courts, Singapore
Date: 4 March 2016
(i) Factsheet on the key initiatives
(ii) Translation of key terms
For further information or clarification, please contact:
(i) Ms Michelle Chiang, Assistant Director, Communications Directorate
Tel: 6435 5179 / 9722 6139
(ii) Mr Henedick Chng, Assistant Director, Communications Directorate
Tel: 6435 5652 / 9722 6139
Factsheet on the Key Initiatives
(a) Changes to the State Courts’ Civil Jurisdiction
1 The State Courts have conducted a review of the civil district courts’ monetary jurisdictional limit and will implement the changes in phases. For a start, the ceiling for personal injury and property damage claims that can be heard by the civil district courts will be raised. This would apply to all claims for personal injuries and property damage arising from motor accidents, and personal injuries from industrial accidents.
Rationale for the changes
2 The civil district courts’ monetary jurisdictional limit was last increased more than 18 years ago. It is timely to consider increasing this jurisdictional limit, to reflect the increasing cost of living and the rate of annual inflation over the past 18 years.
3 There has been an increasing trend in recent years in which higher value claims in excess of the State Courts’ current civil monetary jurisdictional of $250,000 are heard in the State Courts. Such cases were either transferred from the Supreme Court, or heard by the State Courts because parties with claims exceeding the district courts’ jurisdictional limit had agreed, under section 23 of the State Courts Act, to have their cases heard in the State Courts. This trend is most notable in the area of personal injury litigation.
4 This trend suggests that parties are prepared to have the State Courts adjudicate claims of a much higher value, indicating strong trust and confidence in the State Courts.
5 The operational and resource requirements of implementing the increase in the monetary jurisdictional limit of the civil district courts for personal injury and property damage claims are currently being looked into. The changes are expected to be implemented in early 2017.
(b) Establishment of the Employment Claims Tribunal
1 The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had, in 2015, announced its intention to establish the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT). The ECT, when established, will come under the Community Justice and Tribunals Division (CJTD) of the State Courts. The CJTD currently oversees the Small Claims Tribunals, Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals and matters under the Protection from Harassment Act. The introduction of the ECT will augment the important role played by the CJTD in providing a speedy and inexpensive forum for the resolution of disputes.
2 A public consultation on the ECT is being conducted by the MOM. It is possible that the final shape of the legislation pertaining to the ECT may change as a result. Tentative indications of the work and operations of the ECT are as follow:
- The objective of the ECT is to provide an expeditious and affordable forum for all employees to resolve salary-related disputes with their employers. The ECT will accomplish this by adjudicating disputes in a tribunal setting, employing an adjudicatory framework with simplified processes.
- It is contemplated that the ECT will adjudicate salary-related claims between employers and employees arising both under statute and contract, subject to a jurisdictional limit of $20,000. Employees who are outside the ambit of the Employment Act, such as professionals, managers and executives earning above $4,500 monthly, may nonetheless use the ECT if their claims fall within the prescribed jurisdictional limit.
- To encourage the amicable resolution of disputes, parties will be required to go through a mediation process before filing their claims in the ECT. Processes will be put in place to allow for agreements that are voluntarily reached after mediation to be registered as court orders.
3 The State Courts and MOM are currently in discussion on the operational details concerning the ECT.
(c) Pre-Sentence Protocol
1 The Pre-Sentence Protocol is a new sentencing approach to address the underlying problems in certain kinds of offending. It will allow the Court to direct an offender to seek various forms of rehabilitation regime or treatment before he/she is sentenced.
2 Only persons pleading guilty would be emplaced on the Protocol, which focuses on petty thefts, public order offences, and minor offences involving violence and threats arising from alcohol and other related addictions. The Protocol will cover relatively minor offences which may include the following:
Rationale for the Protocol
- section 186 of the Penal Code (Cap. 224) – “Obstructing public servant in discharge of his public functions”;
- section 323 of the Penal Code (Cap. 224) – “Voluntarily causing hurt”;
- section 379-380 of the Penal Code (Cap. 224) – “Theft” and “Shop Theft”;
- section 506 of the Penal Code (Cap. 224) – “Criminal intimidation”;
- section 6 of the Protection from Harassment Act (Cap. 256A) – “Threatening, abusing or insulting public servant or public service worker”.
3 In a number of criminal cases heard in the State Courts, the problems underlying an offending behaviour are clearly identifiable. A fair proportion of petty thefts, public order offences, and minor offences involving violence and threats arise from alcohol and other related addictions. Where these underlying addictions or behaviours are not specifically addressed, they tend to persist and result in re-offending despite repeated prosecution, court convictions and even imprisonment terms. For such repeat offenders who find themselves locked in a cycle of reoffending, another term of imprisonment may not always be the answer.
4 For offenders who may have gained sufficient insight into their underlying issues and may be willing to commit themselves to dealing with the issues, the Protocol provides them with resources to enable them to break free from a cycle of reoffending and reintegrate into the society.
5 Instead of passing sentence immediately, the Courts will direct such offenders to undergo treatment, receive counselling, take medication, and/or voluntarily undergo residential or structured programmes offered by voluntary welfare organisations to encourage them to actually address and resolve their underlying issues. The Courts will monitor an offender’s compliance with the directions, typically over a period of up to six months.
Collaboration with the Singapore After-Care Association
6 As a start, the Singapore After-Care Association (SACA)¹ will assist the Courts by providing case management services for offenders coming under this scheme. Such services could include the provision of counselling services, befriending and pro-social support, monitoring the offender’s compliance with court directions (such as curfew and attendance at courtordered treatment programs), liaising with the offender’s employer and family, and updating and reporting to the court on the offender’s progress. In due course, other relevant volunteer organisations may be engaged by the State Courts for these purposes.
7 At the end of the defined pre-sentence period, the Court will take into consideration the offender’s progress in addressing the underlying problems in the intervening period of time before finalising its decision on sentencing. A conditional discharge requiring that the offender stay crime-free for another 12 months could be one outcome.
8 In appropriate cases, the Courts might also impose post-sentence monitoring so as to ensure that the offender stay focused on dealing with the issues underlying his/her offending behaviour. In such cases, the offender will also be subjected to the oversight and scrutiny of the Progress Accountability Court² , which will review his/her progress.
¹ SACA is a key after-care agency, affiliated with the National Council of Social Service, which seeks to empower ex-offenders to take ownership of their own transformation and to facilitate their reintegration into society.
(d) Executive Programme for Court and Tribunal Administrators
1 The State Courts will be collaborating with an educational institution to develop an executive programme for court and tribunal administrators.
2 This Programme is targeted at high-performing court and tribunal administrators in Singapore and the region who are already holding or have the potential to hold leadership positions in the administration of the Courts. It will also be relevant for public sector officers who are involved in the management of quasi-judicial bodies or those who are involved in related policy and planning work.
3 In this programme, participants will be trained in leadership, process innovation, finance management, public communications, data analytics, values and ethics, amongst other areas, to equip them with critical leadership and management capabilities.
4 It is hoped that this programme will position Singapore as a regional learning hub for achieving excellence in judicial administration.
(e) State Courts Student Representatives Programme
1 The Student Representatives Programme is designed to assist qualifying litigants-in-person in harassment cases, community disputes and small claims cases. Student representatives participating in this scheme will perform the important role of guiding litigants to navigate and adhere to court processes.
2 In addition, the Programme provides the participating students exposure to a wide range of cases involving a variety of issues that affect the common citizen. They will have valuable opportunities to experience and participate in real-life legal scenarios through their interactions with litigants-in-person, judges and experienced court administrators.
²The Progress Accountability Court (PAC) was set up in September 2014 to spur, steer and support change in sentenced offenders. The PAC focuses on providing support for an offender to be personally responsible for his/her progress.
3 The student representatives participating in this programme will be trained and closely supervised by the programme supervisors from their schools and staff of the State Courts’ Community Justice and Tribunals Division.
(f) Informational Tool Kits on the Small Claims Tribunals’ processes
1 The Small Claims Tribunals (SCT) will develop and provide informational tool kits to help users understand the basic legal principles relevant to their claims or defences (as the case may be).
2. Parties to an SCT claim who are unfamiliar with the law associated with their causes of action might have unrealistic expectations of the strengths of their claim(s) or defence(s). This can result in cases being drawn out when they could and should be settled at an earlier stage.
3. The self-help tool kits will help correct possible misconceptions that parties might have on the law, and help them arrive at a realistic assessment of their cases, thus improving the prospects of an amicable settlement.
4. The SCT is now working on the first tool kit involving common claims arising from tenancy disputes. It will:
- contain an introduction to the basic elements of the cause of action;
- highlight the usual documents that should be included;
- set out a list of pertinent issues that parties should consider; and
- use a series of questions to guide the parties in assessing their legal positions.
5. Tool kits for other common types of claims heard by the SCT will be developed in future.
(g) Enhancement of the Integrated Criminal Case Filing and Management System
1 The State Courts will be enhancing the Integrated Criminal Case Filing and Management System (ICMS) by expanding its functionalities, and refining and improving its capabilities.
2 A key focus in this phase of enhancement will be in allowing unrepresented accused persons to access their electronic case files and submit applications online. Work will also commence to develop “ICMS Lite”, a mobile-friendly version that enables key ICMS functions and features to be accessed on the go.
3 Launched in February 2016, the ICMS is one of the most important IT projects launched by the State Courts in recent years. The ICMS tracks criminal and youth court cases from registration to disposal, enabling enforcement agencies to commence criminal prosecutions and other criminal matters electronically at any time of the day, without making a trip to the courthouse. In addition, it enables accurate, complete and timely sharing, retrieval and exchange of relevant information on case status, outcomes and court orders, thereby facilitating greater accessibility, efficiency, transparency and effectiveness for the stakeholders in the criminal justice system.
4 In 2015, the State Courts were conferred three local and international awards for their work on the ICMS:
(i) FutureGov Singapore Awards (‘eGovernment’ category)
(ii) Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation’s Gold Award for “The Best Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology Award (Public Sector)”
(iii) Asia Pacific ICT Alliance’s (APICTA) Merit Award (Government & Public Sector Category)
(h) Community Justice and Tribunals System
1 The Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS) is an IT system for consolidating intake and case management for all cases under the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT), Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals and the upcoming Employment Claims Tribunal.
2 The CJTS will allow court users with cases managed by the CJTD to file their case or access their case documents. It will also include an application that will incorporate onlinedispute resolution processes for SCT claims. This feature will provide a safe and neutral platform for parties involved in small claims disputes to negotiate their disagreements through online conciliations as early as possible, before the claim proceeds to the SCT.
3 The CJTS will be implemented in phases. The first phase is expected to be launched in the third quarter of 2017.
(i) Justice@StateCourts Mobile App
1 Justice@StateCourts is a mobile app designed and developed to meet court users’ need for information on the State Courts’ services.
2 Available for download from Google Play now and AppStore by end March 2016, Justice@StateCourts provides information on filing procedures, State Courts’ operating hours and directions to the State Courts, virtual tours of courtrooms and information on access to legal aid services. The App also displays hearing lists for Pre-Trial Conferences (PTCs), criminal and civil trials, and tribunal hearings. The Small Claims Tribunals’ (SCT) interactive online self-assessment tool, which will guide users to assess their eligibility to file their claims with the SCT and provide brief explanations and suggest alternatives to users whose intended claim is assessed to be ineligible for the SCT, will be added to the App in the third quarter of 2016.
3 Justice@StateCourts is an updated and relaunched version of the “mHearing” app, which had previously only provided hearing lists for PTC cases.
Translation of Key Terms