Courts and AGC finding ways to deal with growing workload, tapping IT and AI

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon addresses the gathering at the opening of the Legal Year 2019 at the Supreme Court, on Jan 9, 2019.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon addresses the gathering at the opening of the Legal Year 2019 at the Supreme Court, on Jan 9, 2019.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - The judiciary and the Attorney-General's Chambers are ramping up efforts to deal with an increasing workload while tapping technology to increase efficiency and devise lower-cost solutions for the public.

At the opening of the legal year ceremony on Monday (Jan 7), Attorney-General Lucien Wong said there will be an increase in headcount for the next five fiscal years, comprising mostly legal officers, to manage the government-wide demand for legal services that has been on the rise in recent years.

For example, he said, the AGC has seen more requests for new and updated legislation.

The number of Bills has increased by 167 per cent and the pages of Bills produced increased by 169 per cent since financial year 2013, he said.

He said there has also been an increase in the volume of domestic criminal and civil cases handled by the AGC, as well as disputes at an international level.

There are also more complex cases that required "much thought and delicate handling", he said, ranging from constitutional and administrative law challenges, to the sentencing of mentally ill offenders, to complex fraud and market manipulation cases.

In a similar vein, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the caseload of the Court of Appeal - Singapore's highest court - is more than 50 per cent higher than it was in 2013.

The cases being heard are also increasing in complexity, he added.

 
 
 

To cope with the growing number of cases, High Court Justices Belinda Ang and Quentin Loh have been regularly sitting in the Court of Appeal. This year, they will be joined by Justice Woo Bih Li, said CJ Menon.

The number of days on which the Court of Appeal sits to hear cases will also be increased.

"Beyond this, we will also examine possible structural adjustments to help address the growing appellate caseload," said CJ Menon.

The complex matters on their plate included the criminal case involving the misuse of City Harvest Church funds, a developer's tussle with Grange Heights condominium's management corporation over a right of way across a strip of land, and a woman's claim against Thomson Medical for the costs of raising her child following an in-vitro fertilisation procedure mix-up.

In their speeches, CJ Menon and Mr Wong also dwelt on ongoing efforts to innovate and to harness technology and artificial intelligence.

CJ Menon said that an online dispute resolution platform for motor accident cases is projected to be launched in phases beginning from the end of this year.

The platform, which comprises an outcome simulator as well as a facility for mediation and settlement, aims to allow people to resolve motor accident disputes online at a much lower cost.

An Office of Transformation and Innovation will also be set up to coordinate changes throughout the entire judiciary, and will look into improving processes, reducing paperwork and making use of emerging technologies.

Mr Wong also highlighted AGC's efforts to be at the forefront of legal technology.

A digital workbench, which allows legal officers to monitor their work, provides a single search point across different databases of precedents and automatically generates statistics, is on track to be launched this year.

In his speech, Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran also announced the results of a survey last year to assess the level of technology adoption in Singapore law firms.

According to the survey, 75 per cent of decision-makers in Singapore law firms believe that they need to increase the level of technology adoption. More than 40 per cent said they would invest more in legal technology in the next two years.

This year's opening of the legal year ceremony was attended by close to 600 members of the local and international legal fraternity, including the chief justices of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.