Indranee Rajah, Law

Subordinate Courts renamed State Courts, to be led by High Court judge

THE Subordinate Courts will be renamed "State Courts" and the office of Chief District Judge elevated to one held by a judge or judicial commissioner of the Supreme Court.

The minimum statutory requirement for a legally qualified person to be a magistrate will also be raised from one to three years' experience, and for a district judge, from five to seven years.

These changes reflect the primary role that the lower courts play in Singapore's judicial system and the growing complexity of the cases before them, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah on Tuesday.

Parliament amended the Subordinate Courts Act to make these changes, marking yet another milestone to enhance their standing, a concern that Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon had first raised last year in his speech opening the legal year.

Ms Indranee noted that the vast majority of people come before the lower courts, which handle more than 95 per cent of the judiciary's total case load or about 350,000 cases a year on average.

Calling them "State Courts" underlines the reality that the lower courts are the primary dispensers of justice and the important national function they play, she said.

The new office of the Presiding Judge of the State Courts reflects the more complex cases, where the value of claims under civil jurisdiction has been raised from $100,000 to $250,000. The judges now also have greater sentencing powers.

Ms Indranee also noted that raising the bar for judicial officers will guarantee a more experienced and mature bench. Already, the Subordinate Courts appoint judicial officers with much longer experience than required by law - about 17 years on average.

The Chief Justice will be able to waive the new statutory requirement for deserving candidates such as mid- or second-career officers with substantial work and life experience.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) suggested every new judicial officer undergo a stint at a Community Development Council or a registered voluntary welfare organisation before their appointment.

He said: "By allowing these officers to interact with applicants for social welfare, some of them may better appreciate the need sometimes for mercy whilst dispensing justice."

Ms Indranee said the suggestion would be relayed to the Chief Justice.