Recommendations to transform the Family Justice System
1. The Committee for Family Justice has finalised its recommendations on the new framework of the family justice system. They will form the blueprint for the development and implementation of a legal and policy framework in order to transform the family justice system in Singapore. The implementation of the framework will be spearheaded jointly by the Ministry of Law, the Judiciary and the Ministry of Social and Family Development.
2. The Committee’s key recommendations are as follows:
(i) Providing better support for families to resolve their disputes through a robust and integrated network of assistance and support.
a. Strengthening community touch points such as Family Service Centres, schools, hospitals, charities, MPs and lawyers to direct families to the appropriate providers of assistance for their problems.
b. Establishment of Specialist Agencies that will provide a range of services to address issues arising from divorce. These Specialist Agencies will be in addition to the three existing agencies that specialise in addressing Family Violence issues. They will provide services such as information and non-legal advice, case management by social workers, counselling and family dispute management.
(ii) Creating a comprehensive specialist family court structure known as the Family Justice Courts. This will introduce enhanced court management processes that will empower the court to adjudicate and resolve family disputes more effectively, while lessening the trauma and acrimony involved in the divorce process.
a. Before filing for divorce in the Family Court, couples must undergo a pre-filing consultation session to understand the importance of co-parenting and the practical issues arising out of a divorce that may have an impact on children, unless they are able to agree on the divorce and all ancillary matters.
b. If the couple decide to institute divorce proceedings, the enhanced court processes will include the following:
- “Court Friend” scheme to render practical support and help unrepresented litigants navigate the court system.
- Judge-led approach where judges will be empowered to take a more proactive role in court proceedings, where appropriate.
- Differentiated case management to provide different tracks for each type of case that enters the court system.
- Child-centred approach that places more emphasis on addressing the interests of children in the divorce process. The proposed measures include: (a) expanding the mandate of the existing Counselling and Psychological Services of the State Courts to better represent the child; (b) appointing Child Representatives in appropriate court proceedings to, e.g., act as the child's advocate; and (c) involving social and psychological service professionals in court proceedings to ensure that the best interests of the child are protected.
c. Introduction of a new Family Law Practitioner (FLP) accreditation. To enhance family law practice in the new family justice system, a corp of lawyers who have undergone specialist training and are accredited as FLPs will be developed.
3. On the recommendations, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law and co-Chairman of the Committee, Ms Indranee Rajah SC said “Families should be saved as far as possible, and court proceedings should be brought only as a last resort. If notwithstanding this the family still ends up in the court system, the court process should not worsen the anguish that the family is undergoing. The feedback from the public and stakeholders underlines this. Families should be supported, until the issues are resolved and they are able to adjust to the changes that taken place. The recommendations are aimed at creating a comprehensive, end-to-end family justice system. The Government and the Judiciary are committed to better protecting and supporting families in distress, at every step of the journey.”
Feedback received during the Public Consultation on Interim Recommendations of the Committee
4. Feedback received by the Committee expressed broad support for the interim recommendations. The feedback gave suggestions to refine the interim recommendations and addressed issues pertaining to the implementation of the interim recommendations. They include:
a. Placing the child’s best interests and welfare at the centre of the family justice system.
b. Acknowledging that every family is unique, and recognising the importance of being sensitive to the needs and circumstances of each family in providing services and assistance.
c. Helping families resolve their disputes early and amicably through a seamless and synergistic family justice system.
d. Helping families navigate the court system with minimal costs and effort by streamlining court processes and procedures, and providing appropriate assistance to unrepresented litigants.
e. Reducing the burden of acrimony in all family disputes and helping families to move on after divorce.
5. All feedback received was considered by the Committee in putting together this set of recommendations. In the next stage of work, the Committee will review other specific aspects of the family justice system, including the enforcement of maintenance orders, and the resourcing and training of social service professionals and judges.
About the Committee for Family Justice
6. The Committee for Family Justice was announced at the Opening of Legal Year 2013 by the Honourable Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon to study how the family justice system can be strengthened in Singapore. Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Ms Indranee Rajah SC and then-Judge of Appeal Justice V K Rajah were appointed by the Minister for Law to chair the inter-agency Committee, which comprises stakeholders involved in family justice, including the Ministry of Law, the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Supreme Court, the State Courts, social services, and the legal fraternity.
7. In addition to holding wide-ranging and comprehensive discussions with stakeholders in the family justice ecosystem, members of the Committee also undertook study trips to Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom to learn from the family justice systems in these jurisdictions. Comparative studies of jurisdictions in both the civil and common law traditions were also conducted.
8. From 7 May to 7 June 2014, the Committee sought feedback on the Public Consultation Paper on the Committee’s interim recommendations, which was made available on the Ministry of Law and REACH websites. The Committee also consulted key stakeholders in a seminar on 19 May 2014, which was jointly organised by the Ministry of Law, the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Family and Juvenile Justice Division, State Courts of Singapore and the Singapore Academy of Law.