Public Consultation on Proposed Reforms to the Civil Justice System
1. The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and Supreme Court launched a public consultation today to gather feedback on the proposed reforms to the civil justice system. The public consultation will run from 26 October to 30 November 2018.
2. MinLaw regularly reviews Singapore’s legal system to ensure that it is progressive, taking into account changing socio-economic needs, technological developments and industry trends. The Civil Justice Commission (CJC) and Civil Justice Review Committee (CJRC) were set up by the Supreme Court and MinLaw respectively in 2015 and 2016 to review the civil justice system.
Civil Justice Reforms
Civil Justice Commission (CJC)
3. The establishment of the CJC was announced by the Chief Justice on 5 January 2015. The CJC was set up with the following terms of reference:
a. To transform, not merely reform, the litigation process by modernising it, enhancing efficiency and speed of adjudication and maintaining costs at reasonable levels.
b. To simplify rules, avoid outdated language without discarding established legal concepts, eliminate time-consuming or cost-wasting procedural steps, ensure fairness to all litigants, make good use of advancements in information technology and allow greater judicial control of the entire litigation process.
c. Such other aspects as the Chief Justice may direct from time to time.
4. The CJC also recognised the need to ensure that the Rules of Court provide flexibility for the court to do right for each individual case, and ensure that parties will not be denied justice because of accidental procedural flaws.
5. The CJC’s key recommendations include:
a. Grant the courts greater control and flexibility over proceedings
- When an action is commenced, the court will take control instead of leaving parties to determine the pace and intensity of the proceedings;
- The trial judge and registrar will be given the autonomy and flexibility to manage their cases.
b. Simplify and expedite applications and appeals on procedural matters so that disputes are resolved on the factual and legal merits.
- Speed up appeals from applications by requiring the parties to file only written submissions with the appeal proceeding as a rehearing based on documents filed by the parties, and hearing all such appeals together;
- Allow lower courts maximum autonomy with appellate intervention only if substantial injustice will be caused;
- Move parties quickly from procedural skirmishes to the main battle on the merits of the case;
- Require less formality for appeals in applications and more formality only for appeals on the merits after trials;
- Make appellate hearings more effective by allowing parties to make only such oral submissions as the appellate court orders.
c. Allow the court to determine the number of applications that parties can file and when parties can file them
- Among other objectives, this is to minimise the practice of seeking to amend pleadings very close to the commencement of trial or even on the first day of trial, resulting in wastage of trial time and possibly resulting in adjournment of the trial.
d. Review of the legal costs framework
- Introduce the use of scale legal costs and to emphasise the principle that in general, solicitor-and-client costs should be equal to party-and-party (P&P) costs. This is to achieve the following:
- Signal clearly to parties that there is a fixed price the moment they decide to resolve the dispute in court. This allows them to weigh the consequences and decide whether it is worthwhile to incur the legal costs; and
- Incentivise solicitors to try to resolve the dispute quickly and obtain the fixed price for less time and effort so that the solicitors can have the capacity to take on more cases.
- No costs will be awarded for applications unless there is unreasonable conduct;
- Parties will generally be awarded full costs even if they settle early or discontinue proceedings;
- Scale legal costs will apply between party and party unless parties otherwise agree or the court otherwise orders in a special case. Where parties opt out of the scale for P&P costs, they may agree on whatever they deem fit;
- Solicitors and clients will be able to make an informed decision whether to depart from scale costs;
- All costs agreements must be in writing and the solicitors are expected to explain to their clients the costs consequences if they opt out of scale costs.
Civil Justice Review Committee (CJRC)
6. The CJRC was established on 18 May 2016 by the Ministry of Law. The CJRC’s key recommendations cover reforms to pre-trial procedure, trial and appeals procedure and post-trial procedure.
7. The CJRC’s key recommendations include:
a. Enhance judicial control over civil litigation.
- Judges can order parties to focus on key issues and provide case management direction to fit individual cases, and this would help reduce the length and cost of proceedings.
- The enhanced judicial control also includes the following:
- Enable Judges to work with parties to formulate the List of Issues which crystallises the issues in dispute, and determine matters such as the scope of disclosure of documents, as well as the scope of factual and expert evidence which should be adduced.
- Issue directions relating to factual witnesses, e.g. the number of factual witnesses, the necessity and scope of evidence to be adduced, the manner in which evidence will be adduced;
- Exercise greater control of the conduct of trial by directly questioning witnesses, restricting the issues and time for examination of witnesses, and direct the order in which any speech or evidence by a witness should be made.
b. Implement default case management track with options.
- Majority of cases to proceed along a default track with streamlined procedure, with options available for time- and cost-intensive procedures.
- Parties will be given the flexibility and autonomy to select options for general discovery or the use of party-appointed experts, by mutual consent.
- If parties are unable to agree, the court will retain the discretion to allow the option on an application by any party.
c. Introduce professional training requirements and public education to support the recommendations.
- Conduct public education to inform members of public of key features of the new civil justice framework;
- Conduct training for Judges and lawyers to ensure that they are suitably equipped with the skills to navigate the new civil justice system.
d. Review the implementation of the CJRC’s recommendations two years post-implementation.
- The CJRC proposes that MinLaw work with the courts to assess the implementation of its recommendations after two years. They should do the following:
a) Determine if the new procedures have led to time- and cost-savings.
b) Determine if parties prefer the default positions or the options for more time-and cost-intensive procedures.
c) Find out if court users’ (litigants, witnesses and counsel) navigation of the civil justice system has been aided by an active judge, who gives guidance at each stage of the proceedings.
Invitation to Give Feedback
8. The public is invited to share its views and comments on the proposed reforms. The public consultation paper, together with the reports of CJC and CJRC, can be found at the Annexes.
9. All comments and feedback should be submitted by 31 January 2019 via post or email to:
Legal Policy Division
Ministry of Law
100 High Street
#08-02 The Treasury
Email: [email protected]
 P&P costs are costs awarded to the successful litigant as compensation for the legal expense he has incurred to put up his case.