Second Reading Speech by SMS for Law Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee on the Subordinate Courts (Amendment) Bill
18 OCT 2010
18 Oct 2010 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
- Mr Speaker Sir, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time”.
- As is the case for the amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, which I have just taken the House through, the last major review of the Subordinate Courts Act or “SCA” was also in 1993. The amendments contained in this Bill also arose from the recommendations of the same two Reports which I had mentioned earlier.
- The key amendment rationalises the civil jurisdiction of the Subordinate Courts. The remaining amendments are mainly housekeeping in nature, with some seeking to clarify existing judicial practice.
- Rationalisation of civil jurisdiction of Subordinate Courts
- On rationalising the civil jurisdiction of the Subordinate Courts, currently, the Act limits the types of cases which the Subordinate Courts can hear in two ways. First, by the value of the dispute which is S$250,000 for the District Court and S$60,000 for the Magistrates’ Court and second, by the legal nature of the dispute.
- With respect to the legal nature of the dispute, currently, the District Court and Magistrates’ Court can only hear claims in contract and tort - what lawyers call “common law actions” - and certain types of actions in equity. This means that the Subordinates Courts cannot hear restitution-type cases like money had and received, and equity-type actions like breach of fiduciary duties or actions for undue influence, even when the amount in dispute is within the Courts’ monetary limits. This is the case even though these types of actions are available in common law and equity. There are also limits to the types of remedies they can grant; for example, the Magistrates’ Court currently cannot grant injunctions.
- These limits on the legal nature of the dispute create practical difficulties for litigants who are forced to go to the High Court when the actions can rightfully be commenced in the Subordinate Courts. It means higher costs for the litigants even though the value of their claim is within the Subordinate Courts’ monetary limits.
- Moreover, there is no reason why the cases that the Subordinate Courts can hear should be limited by what are essentially only technical differences in the legal nature of the dispute. Hence, Clauses 2 and 14 of the Bill amend sections 19 and 22 to allow the District Court and the Magistrates’ Court to hear all types of actions and remedies, subject only to their respective monetary limits. For the Magistrates’ Court, a further qualification is that the Magistrates’ Court will not have jurisdiction over claims which are exclusively non-monetary in nature such as a claim seeking delivery of goods.
- With these amendments in place, a litigant who wishes to commence an action will no longer need to be concerned with the legal nature of his dispute when deciding in which Court - that is the High Court, District Court or Magistrates’ Court - to file his claim. Instead, the main determining factor would be the value of his claim. This is more straightforward and efficient.
- Clause 14 also amends section 52 to give the Magistrates’ Court the power to grant injunctions, albeit not in cases involving exclusively non-monetary claims, and to award interest. We have also taken the opportunity to clarify that the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court, as with other civil courts, is established by service of process.
- Other amendments
- Next, there are 3 amendments which clarify certain aspects of judicial practice.
- Power of District Court and Magistrates’ Court to order medical examination
- First, Clauses 9, 12, 13 and 14 amend sections 31, 50, 51 and 52 to clarify that the District Court and Magistrates’ Court have the power, in both civil and criminal matters, to order persons who are party to proceedings to undergo medical examination if the physical or mental condition of that person is relevant to the proceedings.
- Approval for Registrar and other judicial officers to hold other offices of emolument
- Next, Clause 15 carries the same amendments as Clause 12 of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill, namely to empower the Chief Justice to grant approval for judicial officers to hold other offices of emolument and to make it clear that judicial officers may be appointed to sit on judicial tribunals established outside of the SCJA and SCA, such as the Military Court of Appeal and the Industrial Arbitration Court. In the context of the Subordinate Courts, as I have explained previously, this amendment also serves to clarify the recent practice of employing ad-hoc judges who may be practitioners or academics. Unlike judicial officers who hold their appointments on a full- time basis, these ad-hoc judges are appointed for a fixed term or to hear specific cases.
- Clarification of protection of judicial and other officers
- And finally, Clause 16 clarifies that the current judicial immunity clause in the Subordinate Courts Act also covers a judicial officer conducting mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. This amendment is added because a recent High Court decision held that a Court Dispute Resolution settlement judge does not exercise judicial power when he carries out mediatory functions, thus creating a lacuna in terms of the extent of immunity protection accorded to such a settlement judge. This amendment rectifies this.
- Sir, I beg to move.
Last updated on 25 Nov 2012