SINGAPORE - The courts are set to resume hearings for most cases from June 8 - a week after Singapore exits the circuit breaker period - with remote hearings set to continue.
The Supreme Court will also not enter its usual recess in June, in order to deal with the backlog of matters that have accumulated during the circuit breaker, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon announced in a message to practitioners and court users on Friday (May 29).
"Likewise, the State Courts and the Family Justice Courts (FJC) will continue to hear matters in June," he said.
At present, the courts are hearing only essential and urgent matters.
Noting the need for caution as circuit breaker measures are progressively lifted and the general success of hearings conducted remotely to-date, CJ Menon said that the courts will continue to use video and teleconferencing for various hearings after next Monday (June 1).
"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," he added.
Remote interpretation services are also available at each of the courts to support the conduct of remote hearings.
The Chief Justice said that court users who lack access to or have difficulty participating in remote hearings should notify the relevant court registry ahead of the hearing.
Individuals who are not represented by lawyers and are unable to attend FJC hearings via video conferencing from their homes may use designated "Zoom Rooms" at the FJC's premises, which have Zoom connections to the relevant family judge. They may also contact the FJC Registry for more information.
For hearings which the court requires or permits physical attendance, CJ Menon said that safe distancing and other appropriate measures will be in place to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
This includes mandatory mask-wearing by practitioners and court users at all times while in the court premises, unless otherwise notified by the court.
To reduce the number of people in a courtroom and at waiting areas at any one time, hearings will be scheduled with staggered timings.
No more than two lawyers or litigants may appear at a hearing. Any requests for exemption must be made to the court before the hearing.
Other measures such as floor markers in queue lines at service counters and spaced-out seating arrangements in courtrooms and common areas will continue to be in place.
All visitors to the courts must register their entry to and exit from the court building using the SafeEntry system.
"Court users should also download and activate the TraceTogether application," CJ Menon said.
Visitors will be subject to temperature screenings and be required to make health and isolation order declarations before they enter the court premises.
Any visitor who is unwell or has had contact with any confirmed or suspected cases within the last 14 days will be denied entry.
Facilities such as the Supreme Court and State Courts' libraries, as well as the cafe at the Supreme Court, will remain closed. All guided tours will also continue to be suspended.
More information can be found on the courts' websites or by contacting the relevant court registry, CJ Menon said.
Lawyer Elaine Low welcomed the courts' move to continue conducting hearings by teleconferencing, saying that it is the way forward for Singapore's legal industry.
"There is no commuting or waiting time, so lawyers can spend their time more productively and save costs," said the 29-year-old senior associate at law firm Peter Low & Choo LLC.
She also believes that teleconferencing will accelerate the industry's move towards paperless hearings and reduce reliance on hard-copy documents.
In his message, CJ Menon also said that the legal profession will likely be required to operate within a very different external environment, marked by factors such as heightened concerns about debt and unemployment, as Singapore exits the circuit breaker.
However, he added that the unfamiliar landscape will present new opportunities, expand several existing fields of work, and inspire innovation both within and beyond the profession.
"In the months ahead, all of us in the legal profession must do our part to restore and provide relief to a society in recovery," he said.
"Our response to this challenge will represent the legacy of our profession in the post-pandemic era."