SINGAPORE: The State Courts launched a one-stop facility providing counselling and psychological services for court users on Friday (Mar 8).
The Centre for Specialist Services is one of 13 initiatives that was announced in the Courts' final workplan in its current premises.
The State Courts are slated to move to the new State Court Towers by 2020.
Many court users visit the centre for emotional and psychological issues. For example, the centre offers on-site preliminary assessments of those suspected of having a mental illness.
Under a new programme, which will be rolled out soon, offenders under 21 years old can receive help while their court cases are ongoing.
Current rehabilitative efforts to break the vicious circle of criminal behaviour only kick in after sentencing. However, intervention in the earlier stages is optimal, according to Justice See Kee Oon, presiding judge of the State Courts.
The centre will work with youths four weeks after the first mention to come up with a customised plan. The plan may include formal education, vocational training such as cooking courses, recreational activities and even finding them a home to stay in.
Another programme that was announced involves a new way of resolving conflict between parties in a legal battle.
It adopts restorative justice practices to help heal the relationship, like in disputes between neighbours.
The parties and those in their community who are affected by the conflict will be brought together to resolve the issue instead of fighting it out in court.
Ms Vanita Kaneson, senior court counsellor and the head of the Centre for Specialist Services, said having all the different programmes brought under the centre allows them to optimise resources and have a better understanding of the evolving needs of those who go to court.
Other initiatives announced leverage digital technology to improve court services. One of them is the new Intelligent Court Transcription System (iCTS), the product of a partnership between A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research and the State Courts.
Building the system took more than a year and it is now able to pick up subject-specific terms such as legal and medical terms, insert punctuation and recognise local accents with 90 per cent accuracy.
The iCTS is said to cut down the time taken for transcription, which typical takes three to seven days.
A new civil online toolkit will also aid those in civil matters by providing them with a step-by-step guide on procedure. It will also allow users to download relevant documents and forms.
For criminal cases, inmates who want their court documents will soon be able to access them online from prison. They currently go through a process that takes five to 10 days before they receive their documents in hard copy from the Courts.
Those who do not have lawyers but require advice will be able to speak with lawyers under the Community Justice Centre through video-link.
A pilot programme has been available to drug offenders since February this year.
Lawyers have welcomed these moves.
Senior lawyer Suresh Damodara said the new initiatives, such as those relating to psychological and counselling services, are necessary especially in criminal cases where there are other issues like problems with family members.
He said it was “about time” such changes were introduced and was glad to see the Courts’ proactive stance.
Also in the works are plans to make other processes, like debt recovery, more efficient.
There will also be a co-working space in the new court premises, in partnership with the Singapore Academy of Law. It will house tech companies, start-ups and community lawyers who do pro bono work.
The new State Courts will be the first in the world to house such a space for lawyers. It is hoped that the space will increase access to justice, and drive legal innovation and technology to help the legal community become future-ready.