Legislative Changes to Enhance Court Processes
07 Oct 2019 Posted in Press releases
The Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) has tabled the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill and the Judges’ Remuneration (Amendment) Bill (collectively, “the Bills”), for First Reading in Parliament today.
The Bills seek to refine our judicial system to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of court processes. One key change is the restructuring of the Supreme Court to establish a new Appellate Division of the High Court (“Appellate Division”).
The reforms are being introduced against the backdrop of a growth in the number of appeals, and an increase in the complexity of the matters that have come before the Court of Appeal in recent years. The new Appellate Division will enable the Supreme Court to better deploy limited judicial resources and manage the appeals caseload, which will be allocated between the existing Court of Appeal and the new Appellate Division. This will ensure that court processes remain efficient and maintain high standards of access to justice and quality of justice.
- The key details of the Bills are as follows.
- Targeted Structural Changes to the Supreme Court
- The Supreme Court will continue to consist of the Court of Appeal, which will remain the apex court, and the High Court. The High Court will be restructured into the following two Divisions: -
- the General Division of the High Court (“General Division”); and
- the new Appellate Division.
- A diagram of the new structure of the Supreme Court can be found in Annex A.
- General Division of the High Court
- The existing High Court, which includes the Singapore International Commercial Court and the Family Division of the High Court, will be renamed the General Division of the High Court.
- The General Division will have all the jurisdiction and powers of the existing High Court.
- Appellate Division of the High Court
- The new Appellate Division will hear all civil appeals that are not allocated to the Court of Appeal (see Section E below). The Appellate Division will have no criminal jurisdiction. All criminal appeals will continue to be heard by the Court of Appeal.
- Where a civil appeal has been heard by the Appellate Division, any further appeal against the decision of the Appellate Division may only be brought with the leave of the Court of Appeal. Such applications for leave will be assessed keeping in view that the matter would have already been considered once on appeal. In particular, the Court of Appeal may consider granting leave only if the appeal raises a point of law of public importance. The Court of Appeal will also have regard to such other matters as may be prescribed by the Rules of Court.
- A new class of Judges will sit on the new Appellate Division. These Judges will be designated as “Judges of the Appellate Division”.
- The Appellate Division will ordinarily sit in a panel of three Judges. In specific situations that will be prescribed in a Schedule to the amended Supreme Court of Judicature Act (“SCJA”), a smaller coram may hear the application or appeal.
- Nomenclature changes to the designation of Judges
- The new designation of the permanent judges who will sit in the Court of Appeal, Appellate Division, and General Division are set out in the table below.
|Court of Appeal||Justices of the Court of Appeal|
|Appellate Division||Judges of the Appellate Division|
|General Division||Judges of the High Court (No change)|
- These three classes of Judges will collectively be known as “Supreme Court Judges”.
- Allocation of appeals between the Court of Appeal and the Appellate Division of the High Court
- Appeals arising from a decision of the General Division will be distributed between the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeal.
- In particular, the Court of Appeal will hear all criminal appeals, prescribed categories of civil appeals, and appeals that are to be made to the Court of Appeal under written law. All other appeals will be heard by the Appellate Division. The prescribed categories of civil appeals will be set out in a Schedule to the amended SCJA, and may be amended by the Minister, after consulting the Chief Justice, by order published in the Gazette.
- A table and infographic showing the distribution of appeals between the two appellate courts is set out in Annex B and Annex C.
- The Court of Appeal will have the power to transfer civil appeals between the two appellate courts, notwithstanding the default allocation. A party may also file an application to transfer an appeal from the Appellate Division to the Court of Appeal. This transfer mechanism ensures that the Court of Appeal can decide on questions of law of public importance that may arise in any particular case.
- Subject to finalisation, the filing fees and hearing fees (if any) for appeals from the General Division to the Appellate Division are likely to be similar to those for appeals from the General Division to the Court of Appeal.
- Other proposed amendments to enhance efficiency and flexibility of court processes
- The Bills will also introduce amendments to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of court processes, with a view to ensuring the timely disposal of appeals and bringing the overall cost of litigation down.
- First, the Court of Appeal and the Appellate Division will have the powers to decide prescribed categories of appeals without hearing oral arguments, if every party to the appeal consents. In addition, for appeals before the Appellate Division, parties may consent for the appeal to: (a) be decided by a 2-Judge coram of the Appellate Division (instead of a full 3-Judge coram), subject to the approval of the Court; and (b) be decided by the Appellate Division without hearing oral arguments. These provide parties with an option (subject to the court’s approval) of having their matters considered more expediently and at a lower cost.
- Second, in all cases where leave is required to appeal against a decision of the General Division, the leave application will be heard directly by the relevant appellate court, whose decision will be final. This one-tier process will lead to time and cost savings for litigants.
The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill and the Judges’ Remuneration (Amendment) Bill will refine our judicial system to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of court processes.
MINISTRY OF LAW
7 OCTOBER 2019
Last updated on 7 Oct 2019