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Speech by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, during the Committee of Supply Debate 2015

Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses

1.     Thank you, Madam Chairman.

2.     We will continue to improve our justice system.

3.     We will:

(a) Try and ensure access to justice to as many people as possible;

(b) Refine our system to help and protect families;

(c) Enable law firms to modernise and grow.

(d) Maintain enough good quality lawyers to support our needs.

4.    I will cover three main areas in my speech:

(a) First, what we are doing to help litigants;

(b) Second, how we are improving the Family Justice system; and

(c) Third, what we are doing to help Singapore law practices to expand regionally.

        SMS Indranee Rajah will cover the other areas. 

A Helping Litigants

5.     First on helping litigants, Mr Hri Kumar requested for an update on criminal legal aid.

6.     The Government will now play a bigger role in criminal legal aid.

7.     It will provide funding to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (“CLAS”) administered by Law Society.

8.     This is a significant shift in the Government’s philosophy.

9.     The enhanced CLAS scheme will serve up to 6,000 accused persons each year.

10.     These are people who we assess are unable to afford their own lawyers. It should not affect the work of the small law firms. We will monitor the figures and review if necessary. 

11.     The enhanced CLAS scheme will adopt a revised means test to allow more deserving persons to qualify for assistance.

12.     It will provide more services apart from full representation, and people can receive basic legal advice, or assistance in writing letters of representation or mitigation pleas.

13.     Increasing awareness of CLAS is equally important.

14.     The Law Society will produce a pamphlet of rights that will raise the awareness of CLAS.

15.     It will be distributed to police centres, police posts and Community Clubs throughout Singapore.

16.     In addition, there are people without lawyers who are charged in court. They can also be referred to the Community Justice Centre at the State Courts. The Centre will provide basic legal advice and refer them to CLAS where appropriate.

17.     We have worked closely with the Courts, Law Society and the criminal bar to prepare for the launch of CLAS. The official launch will take place on 23 March 2015.

18.     The scheme’s success would not be possible without the help of volunteer lawyers and law firms. There has been strong support shown for the scheme from the Bar. 13 law firms have pledged to take on CLAS cases on an annual basis. This is in addition, and I emphasise, an addition to the many lawyers who have already committed to doing CLAS work and who have been the backbone of CLAS. Big firms have also come forward. They have assigned lawyers to work for CLAS full time or given time off to work for CLAS.

19.     There is strong participation of the legal profession, and strong Government support. More accused persons without means will have access to justice, and they will receive the help, and the guidance and assurance they need, as they face the criminal justice system. 

B     Family Justice

20.     Let me turn now to family justice system. Another major area of reform has been in the family justice field.

21.     Families should be saved as far as possible. But often the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The parties end up in the court system and the court process should not worsen the anguish for the family.

22.    For these reasons, the family justice system was revamped and the Family Justice Courts was set up.

23.     They will help families through this area of the law by providing:

(a) simplified and streamlined processes and practices;

(b) enhanced case management; and

(c) the judge-led approach. 

24.     The aim is to:

(a) reduce costs;

(b) simplify the process;

(c) focus on the essentials; and

(d) protect the children.

25.     The process should be to resolve key issues, which is the division of assets, and the custody and access to children. It should not reopen the wounds of the marriage and allow the court process to become an arena for emotional conflict.

26.     Ms Ellen Lee asked about the impact of these reforms on the legal profession as a whole.

27.     Family lawyers will be an important link between their clients and the court. 

28.     The Family Justice Committee has an ongoing dialogue with the Family Bar through the Law Society, on the changes. That will continue.

29.     SMS has also disseminated newsletters to family lawyers, describing the reforms to all of them and how the family justice system has been revamped.

30.     We have also organised either directly or with partners, numerous courses, talks and training sessions for family lawyers. These have touched on:

(a) the new judge-led approach and case management;

(b) the appointment of Child Representatives; and

(c) family mediation. 

        In addition, a framework has been established to train and certify family lawyers as Family Mediators. 

31.     Feedback from the Family Bar has been positive.

32.     The Family Justice Courts will explore additional training areas as appropriate.

33.    Family lawyers are encouraged to attend these courses, to equip them with the necessary skills to manage cases in the new family justice system.

34.     Looking forward, the Ministry will continue to review family-related legislation with an impact on people in their family life.

35.     These include:

(a) the   Guardianship of Infants Act 1

(b) the Intestate Succession Act 2

(c) the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act 3, and 

(d) the Legitimacy Act.

36.     We will also look into strengthening the enforcement of maintenance orders.

37.     This will help those who depend on maintenance payments to raise their children after the divorce.

38.     We aim to complete this work in 2016.

    Regionalisation of Singapore law practices

39.     Let me now turn to the regionalisation of Singapore law practices.

40.     The Ministry is taking active steps to help Singapore Law Practices grow further. We want them to tap into regional opportunities.    

41.     We are the leading dispute resolution hub in the region. There are 3 components in our strategy:

(a) International arbitration;

(b) International litigation; and

(c) Mediation.

42.     We have enjoyed success with international arbitration.

43.     We are now Asia’s leading arbitral centre; and one of the world’s leading arbitral centres. 

44.     We aim to replicate that success for court-based litigation and international mediation.

45.     We have, in that context, set up the:

(a) Singapore International Commercial Court (“SICC”); 

(b) Singapore International Mediation Centre (“SIMC”); and 

(c) Singapore International Mediation Institute (“SIMI”).

46.     Mr Vikram Nair asked for updates on the SICC, SIMC, and SIMI, and how they will benefit local lawyers.

Singapore International Commercial Court

47.     The SICC offers foreign parties with access to a neutral court forum in the region. It will be an alternative to other customary fora.

48.     It introduces innovations designed to make it more attractive for international parties.

49.     For example, it has:

(a) Special procedures for efficient resolution of cases governed by foreign law; and

(b) a distinguished and diverse panel of international judges, who will work with our Singapore judges.

50.     Since the SICC was launched on 5 January this year, 11 eminent international jurists have been appointed as International Judges. 

51.     The SICC will increase opportunities for our lawyers and local firms. Law firms will benefit from the exposure to:

(a) complex cross-border disputes and 

(b) eminent international judges with vast experience.

International Mediation

52.     International mediation is another area that will provide opportunities for our lawyers. 

53.     The SIMC offers world-class international commercial mediation services. It has a panel of over 65 world class mediators, from 14 jurisdictions.

54.     Since its launch last November, the SIMC has already received its first international mediation referral.

55.     The SIMC and SIAC have introduced an innovative Arb-Med-Arb Protocol.

56.     This will allow settlements reached at mediation to be recorded as consent awards that are internationally enforceable. 

57.     The SIMI will also help make mediation a viable and attractive option to resolve disputes. It will set standards and provide greater understanding of mediation. 

58.     With international commercial arbitration, litigation and mediation services now collectively in place, Singapore can offer the full suite of dispute resolution services to commercial users that are best suited to address their business needs.

59.     This will provide local lawyers and law firms with more work, as we have experienced for international arbitration.

60.     SMS Indranee Rajah will describe some of the other schemes that are available for local lawyers and law firms. 

61.     She will also take the remaining cuts.

[1] For instance, under the current GIA, a child has parents or guardians who are unsuitable or unable to fulfil their parental responsibility, an interested applicant such as a grandparent will have difficulties making an application to be appointed as the child’s guardian. The review aims to address this issue.

[2] Review of ISA to address issue of the claim of illegitimate child to a share of the deceased parent’s estate.

[3] For instance, IFPA review deals with right of an illegitimate child, a stepchild and an elderly parent’s to apply for reasonable provision for maintenance from the deceased’s estate.

Last updated on 11 Mar 2015