Legislative Changes to Enhance Singapore’s Civil Justice Framework
1. The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has tabled the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment No. 2) Bill for First Reading in Parliament today. The proposed amendments are aimed at aligning our civil procedure framework to changing socio-economic needs, technological developments and industry trends.
2. The proposed changes in the Bill would grant the courts more flexibility to tailor court procedures according to shifting trends and to suit the needs of individual cases.
Key Amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act
3. The key features of the Bill are as follows:
(A) Enhance and improve court processes
(i) Clarify that the courts can conduct hearings via video conference or other electronic means.
· This will help save and time and costs as lawyers need not travel to court for hearings that can be conducted via electronic means.
(ii) Clarify that the Rules Committee is empowered to make rules relating to how factual and expert evidence is to be presented in court.
· This allows the Rules Committee to take into account trends in specific cases and develop rules to optimise the use of court time in the admission of evidence.
(iii) Grant the courts greater powers to control vexatious proceedings.
· This amendment grants the courts power to make different types of civil restraint orders to address varying degrees of vexatious conduct. This introduces a more nuanced approach to restrain a vexatious litigant, taking into account the facts of each case.
· The court may also stay the vexatious proceedings and order that no further documents be filed by a party if the filing of documents would be vexatious or for an improper purpose.
· These proposals were drawn from best practices in the United Kingdom and Canada.
(iv) Allowing the courts to impose late filing fees for non-compliance with the Rules of Court, court orders or directions, and practice directions.
· This seeks to encourage parties and their lawyers to comply with the Rules of Court, court orders and practice directions, so as to ensure the effectiveness of court sessions.
(v) Requiring the leave of court before an application can be made to admit further evidence on appeal, except for matters which occurred subsequent to the date of decision.
· This aims to encourage parties to present all relevant evidence at the first instance hearing.
(vi) Amend the monetary threshold to $60,000 for decisions of the District and Magistrates’ Courts which are appealable with leave to the High Court.
· Currently, decisions of the District and Magistrates’ Courts are appealable to the High Court with leave if the amount in dispute does not exceed $50,000. However, the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court is $60,000, which results in gap where cases between $50,000 and $60,000 can be appealed to the High Court without leave. The proposed amendment seeks to close this gap.
(B) Strengthening procedures for cases before the Court of Appeal
(vii) Allowing the Court of Appeal to determine a broader range of matters based on written submissions.
· The Court of Appeal may determine (i) any application and (ii) appeals from the Singapore International Commercial Court if parties consent, based on written submissions.
· This will allow appropriate cases to be dealt with in an expedited manner without the need to conduct hearings.
(viii) Allowing the Minister to specify certain matters in a Schedule to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (SCJA).
· The Minister will be allowed to specify the following in a Schedule to the SCJA which can be amended by the Minister in consultation with CJ:
o Civil matters which may or may not be appealed with leave
o Number of judges needed to exercise the civil jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal for different types of matters.
· This allows the list of matters specified in the Schedule to be amended quickly to adapt to demands on the ground.
(ix) Leave of court is required to vary or discharge directions or orders made under section 36.
· This amendment inserts a new requirement that leave of court is required to make an application to discharge or vary directions or orders made pursuant to applications ancillary to a pending appeal.
· The requirement for leave of court ensures that court resources are used appropriately to deal with meritorious applications.
(x) Empowering the Court of Appeal to summarily dismiss appeals or applications on its own motion.
· This power can be exercised in two circumstances:
o Where it lacks the jurisdiction to hear the matter; or
o Where the matter relates to an issue that has already been decided by the Court of Appeal.
· This allows unmeritorious appeals or applications to be dismissed without expending excessive judicial time and resources.
· The Court of Appeal must give the party a reasonable opportunity to show cause why that appeal or application should not be dismissed.
4. A public consultation on the proposed amendments was conducted by the Ministry of Law from 2 July 2018 to 30 July 2018. The key amendments above were finalised after the public consultation and closed consultation with key stakeholders, including the Supreme Court and the legal practitioners.
5. Our responses to the feedback received from the public consultation exercise can be found in Annex A.
MINISTRY OF LAW
10 SEPTEMBER 2018
RESPONSES TO FEEDBACK RECEIVED ON THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE ACT
1. On 2 July 2018, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) released a public consultation paper on the proposed amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (“SCJA”). The public consultation exercise closed on 30 July 2018, and MinLaw received feedback on the following key proposals:
a. Grant the courts greater powers to control vexatious proceedings
b. Allow Minister to specify in a Schedule to the SCJA the civil matters which may or may not be appealed with leave to the Court of Appeal
c. Allow Minister to specify the number of judges that may exercise the civil jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal for different types of matters
d. Allow the Court of Appeal to summarily dismiss appeals or applications on its own motion
2. The respondents’ feedback and MinLaw’s responses are set out below:
(a) Grant the courts greater powers to control vexatious proceedings
3. Some respondents were concerned that the proposed civil restraint orders would adversely affect a party’s day in court, especially since section 74 of the SCJA already empowers the High Court to restrain a vexatious litigant. MinLaw’s view is that the existing power under section 74 is an extreme remedy and may not always be appropriate. The proposed amendments seek to introduce a more gradated approach to deal with different types of vexatious conduct. This accords with notions of fairness as varying degrees of vexatious conduct will receive different severity of orders. While MinLaw recognizes the need for a party to have his / her day in court, this right to be heard is not unfettered and mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that court processes are not being abused.
4. Some respondents suggested that a party should be allowed to apply to amend or discharge a civil restraint order without having to seek leave of court. The requirement for leave of court to amend or discharge a civil restraint order is drawn from the equivalent provisions in the United Kingdom. MinLaw’s view is that leave is necessary to ensure that court resources are only expended to consider meritorious applications to amend or discharge a civil restraint order.
(b) Allow Minister to specify in a Schedule to the SCJA the civil matters which may or may not be appealed with leave to the Court of Appeal
5. Some respondents were of the view that such matters should be left to Parliament with assistance from the Minister, in light of the paramount importance of not unduly impinging upon parties’ rights of appeal. MinLaw has not accepted this suggestion. The proposed schedule will be amended by Minister in consultation with CJ. As Minister is accountable to Parliament, there is sufficient accountability built into the proposed mechanism. This also provides flexibility for the list to be amended quickly to adapt to the demands on the ground.
(c) Allow the Minister to specify the number of judges that may exercise the civil jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal for different types of matters
6. Some respondents suggested that this could be left to the courts to decide in the circumstances of each individual case. MinLaw’s view is that setting out the composition of the Court of Appeal to hear different types of matters under the Schedule would provide more certainty to parties and counsel. On a related note, the current section 30 of the SCJA already sets out the matters which could be heard and determined by a Court of Appeal consisting 2 Judges of Appeal. Therefore, our current proposal seeks to build on established practice.
(d) Allow the Court of Appeal to summarily dismiss appeals or applications on its own motion
7. Some respondents were of the view that it may not be ideal for the Court of Appeal to exercise such a power of summary dismissal, as it would unduly restrict the parties’ rights to be heard. These respondents noted that the Court of Appeal may benefit from hearing counsel before making a decision as to whether it lacks jurisdiction, or the matter relates to an issue that has already been decided by the Court of Appeal.
8. The Court of Appeal may not summarily dismiss any appeal or application without giving the appellant or applicant an opportunity to be heard. Under the proposed amendments, the Court of Appeal must first give the appellant or applicant a reasonable opportunity to show cause why the appeal or application should not be dismissed.
9. MinLaw would like to thank all respondents for taking the time to review the proposed amendments to the SCJA and provide their valuable feedback. These feedback has helped us to review and refine our proposed amendments to the SCJA.