New panel to make justice accessible to S'poreans

A new committee to ensure Singaporeans have affordable access to justice was announced yesterday, as part of a broad-based review of the civil justice system.

The eight-member Civil Justice Review Committee is chaired by Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah, who announced this yesterday at the Association of Muslim Lawyers Annual Lecture 2016.

Comprising senior members of the Bar and representatives of the judiciary and the Government, the committee will make recommendations to allow judges greater control in managing cases and ensure that legal costs are proportionate to the value of claim.

The committee held its first meeting earlier this month and is expected to complete its work by the end of the year.

"The committee acknowledges the importance of enabling access to justice for all, including individuals who do not have legal representation and small and medium enterprises," said Ms Rajah, whose keynote address focused on the delivery of community justice.

As part of the larger civil justice system, she stressed that community justice has to "facilitate enduring relationships between parties as far as possible".

"You do not want an outcome which leads to continued or greater enmity between members of our society," she said. "In that situation, community justice is not served even if the outcome is legally correct."

The lecture was held at the State Courts Auditorium and attended by some 250 lawyers, judges, legal officers and law students.

Ms Rajah also noted how technological advancements, which create new forms of interaction, may result in novel community disputes in the near future. An example would be the introduction of driverless cars, which would impact the manner and speed at which a pedestrian injured in a motor accident seeks recourse.

She asked: "Who would you sue, the manufacturer or the person who was responsible for placing the driverless car on the road?"

The rise of peer-to-peer services such as Uber and Airbnb, which blur the lines between suppliers and consumers, will also pose a challenge to the civil justice system, she said.

She added that a "one-stop shop" that would have the jurisdiction to handle all types of community disputes could be explored as a possible long-term solution. "This could be preferable to setting up a separate, specialised forum each time a new pocket of community disputes emerges."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'New panel to make justice accessible to S'poreans'. Print Edition | Subscribe