SINGAPORE: In line with the extension of Singapore's COVID-19 circuit breaker period to Jun 1, the courts will be adjourning most of their cases until early June.
In order to make up for the backlog, the Supreme Court, State Courts and Family Justice Courts will give up their usual recess in June and continue running from Jun 8.
This is provided that there are no further extensions of the circuit breaker, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said in a message on Friday (Apr 24).
Referring to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech on Apr 21 announcing the extension and tightening of circuit breaker measures, Chief Justice Menon said: "As the Prime Minister explained, the extension of the circuit breaker may bring about short-term pain and inconvenience but it is necessary that we act decisively in order to break the chain of transmission."
He said the judiciary's response to COVID-19 will be consistent with this national policy, with "all measures" taken to minimise the risk of transmission for judges, court staff, lawyers and court users.
The courts have already stopped hearing all non-essential and non-urgent cases since Apr 7, when the circuit breaker period began.
READ: COVID-19: Most court hearings in the next month to be adjourned except urgent, essential cases
When assessing whether a matter is essential and urgent, the courts will consider whether the case is time-sensitive, or if there are any legal requirements which state that the matter has to be heard within a specified time-frame.
So far, these include chargings, cases where a person has been remanded for a period that could eventually be longer than his jail term, as well as COVID-19-related cases.
Even so, these cases have been heard differently - with lawyers and prosecutors "appearing" in court via Zoom video-conference.
Many times, only the judges wearing masks and accused persons were in court, while the prosecutors, interpreters and defence lawyers attended via video-call.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court held its first fully virtual hearing, acquitting a man on death row for drug-related offences.
The State Courts have conducted remote hearings for 17 pre-trial conferences, 28 plead guilty mentions and 99 other mentions this week, said the Chief Justice.
The Family Court fixed 23 trials of urgent matters in the past week using Zoom, while the Youth Court heard 33 matters with the same technology.
When the usual court hearings resume on Jun 8, certain safeguards to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may remain in place, and some hearings will continue to be heard by video or teleconferencing, said Mr Menon.
Each of the three different courts has published microsites dedicated to announcements and updates on COVID-19.
"We are immensely grateful for the support and cooperation of the Bar, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Singapore Prisons and all court users in working with us to find ways to ensure that essential judicial services can be accessed," said the Chief Justice.
He said COVID-19 has "reminded us that our health is our most valuable resource".
"I therefore encourage us all to view our health, and that of our colleagues and neighbours, as our foremost priority both now and in the future," he said.
Mr Menon lauded the legal profession for demonstrating its resilience, adaptability and capacity for innovation in "this complex and evolving situation", and said it was his hope "that we will emerge from this stronger and better prepared than before".
Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram