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Family Justice Bill tabled in Parliament

The new Family Justice Bill will seek to strengthen infrastructure and enhance court management processes to better protect and support families.

SINGAPORE: A new Family Justice Bill tabled in Parliament on Tuesday (July 8) will seek to strengthen infrastructure and enhance court management processes to better protect and support families.

A new Family Justice Courts (FJC) - made up of the High Court (Family Division), the Family Court and the Youth Court - will be established to hear all family-related proceedings.

The current Juvenile Court will be renamed the Youth Court and come under the Family Justice Court instead of the State Courts. It will hear cases related to children and young persons. Where necessary, it will direct the parties to undergo mediation or counselling, as well as participate in available family support programmes.

The Family Court will hear all family proceedings except cases under the Children and Young Persons Act, which will be heard by the Youth Court. Meanwhile, the High Court (Family Division) will primarily hear appeals against decisions of the Family Court and the Youth Court.

The tabled bill comes after the Law Ministry and Ministry of Social and Family Development accepted the recommendations put forward by the Committee for Family Justice.

The recommendations made by the committee are focused on helping families resolve their disputes by developing a robust and integrated network of assistance and support, as well as enhanced court management processes that will empower the Court to resolve such disputes more effectively. They are also meant to help lessen the trauma and acrimony involved in the divorce process, the committee said.

For instance, couples with young children unable to agree on divorce and all ancillary matters, will need to undergo a mandatory pre-filing consultation session before filing for divorce.

The consultation will help couples understand practical issues arising from divorce that may impact their children, such as the importance of co-parenting. They will be conducted by a new group of agencies called the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies, which can be established in key community nodes by the end of the year.

Child representatives, such as lawyers, will also be appointed in appropriate court proceedings to act as the child's advocate. Custody cases are one example of the need for such representatives.

The bill will introduce a new Family Law accreditation scheme, where lawyers will undergo specialist training, in order to enhance family law practice in the new family justice system.

Moving forward, the committee will review other specific aspects of the family justice system, including the enforcement of maintenance orders, as well as the resourcing and training of social services professionals and judges.

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