MINISTRY OF LAW ADDENDUM TO THE PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS
27 Aug 2020 Posted in Press releases
MR K SHANMUGAM
MINISTER FOR LAW
- The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) will work with stakeholders, partners, and the public to advance access to justice, develop our legal services to support our economy and society, and strengthen the Rule of Law in Singapore, to realise our vision of ‘A Trusted Legal System; A Trusted Singapore’.
Riding Out the COVID-19 Storm Together
- The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many businesses and individuals. To mitigate the impact of the pandemic, Parliament passed the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill in April 2020 under a certificate of urgency. This provided companies temporary relief from their contractual obligations. The Act also increased the monetary thresholds and time limits for bankruptcy and insolvency to help individuals and companies respectively. The Act was further amended in June 2020, to further enhance support for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and eligible non-profit organisations, through the provision of fair handling of rental obligations.
- In the coming months, some companies will face a real risk of insolvency and financial constraints may cause litigants to forgo pursuing their legal rights. We will put in place measures to assist micro and small companies who need to restructure or wind down their businesses through simpler, faster, and lower cost proceedings.
Emerging Stronger Post-COVID-19
Strengthening Access to Justice
- We will continue to strengthen and enhance access to justice for all Singaporeans. We reviewed the civil legal aid means test in 2019, which simplified the application process and introduced a new Means Test Panel that can waive the means criteria for deserving applicants with extenuating circumstances. We will continue to work closely with the legal fraternity to provide civil and criminal legal aid to Singaporeans with limited means.
- COVID-19 has brought on new challenges to our society and may have exacerbated the legal problems which vulnerable groups face. To better support them, we will expand our partnerships with Social Service Agencies (SSAs) and Family Service Centres (FSCs). We will help people address not only their legal problems but also their underlying social needs. As we accelerate the digital transformation of our legal aid services, we will work with our partners to ensure that access to legal aid and advice will not be hampered by the lack of access to technology.
- To ensure that all segments of our society have access to justice in a post-COVID-19 world, we are reviewing and streamlining common legal processes, such as conveyancing, making a will, and applying for probate. We will accelerate the use of technology in these processes, so that they are more accessible and user-friendly, whilst still protecting the interests of all parties. We will also review the Community Dispute Management Framework to strengthen the management of disputes between neighbours.
Transforming our Legal Industry, Intellectual Property, and Geospatial Sectors
- Looking beyond the immediate challenges, we are planning ahead and will boldly seize new opportunities to transform our legal services, intellectual property, and geospatial sectors.
- Singapore is already a leading international dispute resolution hub. This was further bolstered by the adoption of the Singapore Convention on Mediation, the first UN Convention named after Singapore, in 2019. The Convention will come into force on 12 September 2020.
- We will build on our strong foundation and work closely with law associations, law practices, lawyers, and law schools to strengthen and deepen our capabilities in key and emerging high-growth practice areas. We will support law practices in expanding their international reach, for example by equipping lawyers with an understanding of key markets, and developing joint programmes with other professional services such as the “Lawyers and Accountants Go Global” programme to capture new markets and foreign client bases. We will also build on the new omnibus Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act to strengthen Singapore as an international centre for debt restructuring. We will continue to implement reforms to provide companies and individuals with additional options for litigation funding, starting with certain categories of proceedings, to enable more litigants to pursue meritorious claims.
- We will also build on the “Tech-celerate for Law” programme, and continue to work with law practices to accelerate the adoption of technology to improve productivity and enable the delivery of legal services in new and innovative ways.
- To encourage and strengthen support for businesses to use their intellectual property (IP) for growth, we launched the SG Patent Fast Track in April 2020 to enable innovative businesses to protect their inventions in all fields of technology, including COVID-19 solutions. We will expand the programme to include Trade Marks and Registered Designs. We will also continue to assist enterprises and communities to better manage and monetise their intellectual property, for example through the Growing with Resilience through InTangibles (GRIT) initiative.
- We will work with the private sector to build up Singapore’s geospatial capabilities with the launch of a 3D Singapore Sandbox. This Sandbox will enable the private sector to test out innovative solutions using 3D geospatial modelling, visualisation and analytics tools.
Upholding the Rule of Law
- A strong rule of law is a cornerstone of a progressive country. We will continue to undertake legal reforms to maintain trust in our legal system. We will also continue to be a responsible member of the international community and fulfil our international obligations, such as our efforts in anti-money laundering/ countering the financing of terrorism.
- To strengthen the criminal justice system, we amended the Penal Code to introduce enhanced penalties for offences against minors and vulnerable victims, and to create new offences for voyeurism, distributing intimate images and sexually exploiting minors. We also amended the Protection from Harassment Act to strengthen protection for victims of harassment and online bullying, and to tackle offences such as doxxing. We will operationalise a new specialist Protection from Harassment Court to provide a one-stop solution for victims to receive holistic and effective relief with simplified procedures and expedited timelines.
- We will progressively implement the recommendations of the Committee to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System to promote the use of multi-disciplinary approaches and processes to resolve family disputes out of court. This will help minimise litigation and promote healing of relationships. We will also simplify and streamline court processes in the civil justice system while keeping costs affordable and enabling court proceedings to be conducted flexibly, for example by expanding the scope of remote and asynchronous hearings.
- MinLaw has been working in close partnership with agencies and stakeholders to transform the legal industry to adopt innovation and technology, as well as strengthen Singapore’s position as an international hub for dispute resolution. Through SG Together, we will further widen and deepen our engagement and collaboration efforts as we develop our plans to help us better realise our vision.
Last updated on 27 Aug 2020