Most court cases will resume with caution after circuit breaker, but remote hearings remain: Chief Justice

Most court cases will resume with caution after circuit breaker, but remote hearings remain: Chief Justice

SINGAPORE: Most court cases will resume on Jun 8, after about two months of suspended activity with only urgent and essential cases being heard.

During the "circuit breaker" period, hearings were either postponed or held via video-conference or phone if possible, and there has been generally positive feedback on the latter, the Chief Justice said in a message on Friday (May 29).

"There was general consensus that remote hearings were convenient, cost and time-efficient, and represented an important means by which the courts could sustain access to justice during the pandemic and hopefully enhance this into the future," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

During the circuit breaker period that began on Apr 7, most hearings in all the courts were adjourned, with certain exceptions when they were absolutely necessary.

In the State Courts, the courtrooms continued to see daily chargings - as arrested persons have to be produced in court within 48 hours according to the Criminal Procedure Code.

Many of the cases heard during the period were related to COVID-19. Several people have already been sentenced to jail or fined for breaking new COVID-19 regulations, which were fast-tracked and passed into law on Apr 7 itself.

READ: Necessary for Singapore to fast-track COVID-19 laws amid unprecedented situation: Lawyers

At the same time, there were also a few cases involving violence - such as a 20-year-old man who was charged with murder over the death of a 38-year-old jogger in Punggol Field, a rioting case in Chinatown and an assault in a cemetery.

To deal with the backlog accumulated since Apr 7, the Supreme Court, State Courts and Family Justice Courts will forgo their usual recess in June and continue operating.

VIDEO AND TELECONFERENCING TO CONTINUE FOR SOME HEARINGS

As Singapore progressively lifts the circuit breaker measures in phases, the courts will continue to use video and teleconferencing "for various hearings" after Jun 1, in light of the "general success in the conduct of remote hearings so far", said the Chief Justice.

"COVID-19 has transformed, perhaps irreversibly, the ways in which we live, work, and interact. In courts around the world, it has accelerated the pace of the technology revolution, particularly in the use of remote communication technology to facilitate the conduct of hearings."

However, there are certain court users who may lack access to remote hearings and have difficulty attending them. Such users should notify the relevant court registry ahead of their hearing. 

Those at the Family Justice Courts who cannot attend Zoom hearings from their homes can head to designated "Zoom Rooms" at the court.

If the hearings are to be heard in person, safe-distancing measures will continue to apply post-circuit breaker.

Visitors must wear masks at all times and hearings will be staggered to reduce the number of people gathered at any one time, with limits on how many lawyers and litigants can attend per case unless exemptions are given.

Other pandemic measures such as temperature screenings, health declarations and intensive cleaning of the premises will continue.

"As Singapore exits the 'circuit breaker' period on Jun 1, the legal profession will likely be required to operate within a very different external environment," said Chief Justice Menon.

He added that the legal profession must do its part in the months ahead "to restore and provide relief to a society in recovery".

"Our response to this challenge will represent the legacy of our profession in the post-pandemic era," he said.

He thanked the Bar, the Attorney-General's Chambers, Singapore Prisons and court users for their swift acceptance and adoption of the use of video and teleconferencing for the conduct of hearings.

"That has been instrumental to our ability to sustain access to justice for essential and urgent matters in the past two months, while ensuring full compliance with the necessary safe distancing requirements," he said.

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Source: CNA/ll(ac)

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