Oral Answer by Senior Minister of State for Law, Ms Indranee Rajah SC, to Parliamentary Question on the Family Justice Committee's Reforms
6 Nov 2017 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC)
To ask the Minister for Law (a) whether he can provide an update on the implementation of the Family Justice Committee’s reforms; (b) whether there has been an assessment of the outcomes of the cases at the Family Justice Courts after the introduction of the various reforms; (c) whether further enhancements can be made to the court processes to encourage families to heal and reconcile; and (d) how can the family law practitioners be part of this change.
Our family justice system aims to resolve family disputes through mediation as far as possible and with litigation only as the last resort.
Many cases that go through the family justice system are divorce proceedings, and ancillary issues such as the division of matrimonial assets and issues relating to the custody, care and control of the children. The court process in dealing with these issues should be affordable, and should not make it more painful for the families involved. In particular, we should see to the interests of the children, and protect them during the proceedings to the extent possible.
With these aims in mind, the Committee for Family Justice was convened in 2013, which made recommendations to introduce less adversarial and more child-centric approaches in family proceedings, and to also improve community support outside of the court system.
The work of the Committee led to the enactment of the Family Justice Act and the establishment of the Family Justice Courts on 1 October 2014. Pursuant to the Committee’s recommendations, the following reforms were implemented in the Family Justice Courts.
First, a judge-led approach. This was adopted which places the judge in the centre of the court process and allows the judge to guide and direct the proceedings. This reduces acrimony between parties and is an improvement over the previous purely adversarial approach towards resolving family disputes.
- Second, case management policies and processes have been enhanced in the Family Justice Courts.
- The docketing system ensures that a single judge manages the case early in the proceedings to its conclusion. This helps to ensure that the judicial officer adjudicating the dispute is familiar with, and sensitive to, the issues and parties involved.
- The simplified uncontested divorce track was also implemented to allow parties to apply for the case to be scheduled for an uncontested hearing if there has been agreement on both sides. Cases under the simplified uncontested divorce track are resolved faster. Previously, the median time taken for such cases to obtain Interim Judgment was 53 days. This was shortened to about 20 days under the simplified uncontested divorce track.
- Third, child representatives are now appointed by the Court if it is in the best interests of the child to do so. This usually occurs in high conflict matters where parties cannot agree on the care arrangements of the child. There are currently 26 trained child representatives, and there have since been 40 cases where child representatives were appointed. These child representatives represent the voice of the child in family disputes and present an objective assessment of the care arrangements which would be in the best interests of the child.
- Fourth, aside from the court-based initiatives, the Committee also recognised that families should be provided with better assistance and support to resolve their disputes out-of-court, wherever possible. In this regard, the Committee proposed the establishment of Divorce Support Specialist Agencies to provide specialised services and programmes for divorcing and divorced families. The Ministry of Social and Family Development has since established four Divorce Support Specialist Agencies to provide the support and care to such families.
- The Family Justice Courts have been established for three years now. Early indications have been positive. The average time taken for divorce cases to be granted Interim Judgment has been reduced from 68.6 days in 2012 to 53.1 days in 2016. Similarly, the average time taken for Final Judgment to be granted has also been reduced from 155.3 days in 2012 to 114.6 days in 2016. We intend to work with the Family Justice Courts to conduct a joint survey of court users to better understand the court users’ experience of the reforms in the family justice system.
- Despite these improvements, certain cases still require an extended time to resolve, and with acute acrimony between parties. In this regard, the Ministry of Law, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Family Justice Courts have decided to convene a new committee to further enhance the family justice system.
- Family lawyers play an important and integral role in these reforms – including how they advise and counsel clients, the manner in which they conduct the cases in court and their knowledge and familiarity with the social support systems that have been set up to assist families. This was recognised by the Committee for Family Justice which proposed a new Family Law Practitioner accreditation scheme for lawyers who have undergone specialist training. Work is underway to design a specialist family law and multi-discipline training for family lawyers and I look forward to the implementation of this recommendation. We will continue to partner with and support our family lawyers to facilitate the effective practice of family law today.
- We will continue to make reforms and improve our family justice system, to better support and preserve families going through a dispute, through a less adversarial, more efficient and more child-centric approach to family litigation, as well as a robust network of community support.
Last updated on 06 Nov 2017