Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon moots idea of 'low bono' scheme for family disputes

The idea of developing a "low bono" model is to increase access to legal services for those in the sandwich class who are embroiled in family disputes. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

SINGAPORE - Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has asked the Family Justice Courts to work with the Law Society to explore the possibility of launching a family law assistance scheme, he said at the opening of the legal year ceremony on Monday (Jan 8).

The idea is to develop a "low bono" model to increase access to legal services for those in the sandwich class who are embroiled in family disputes. It is inspired by the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, which is run by the society.

If realised, it would mean legal help at discounted rates for those who do not qualify for pro bono aid but find it difficult to afford a lawyer.

The Chief Justice also revealed that the greater use of mediation, counselling and other measures to reduce the pain and acrimony of family disputes has led to a low proportion of contested divorce hearings.

The percentage of divorce cases decided under a simplified process for uncontested cases has increased from 24 per cent of all cases filed in 2015, to 37 per cent in 2016 and 49 per cent last year, he said.

The process was initiated by the Family Justice Courts in 2015 to speed up and simplify proceedings for couples who agree on divorce and on ancillary matters such as child custody and the division of matrimonial assets.

The percentage of divorces that proceed to contested hearings has also decreased over the years, said the Chief Justice. He noted that in 2016, less than 7 per cent of divorce hearings were contested on either the grounds for divorce or on ancillary matters.

The annual event, held at the Supreme Court, was attended by members of the legal fraternity, the Chief Justices of Indonesia and Malaysia, and other overseas guests.

In a wide-ranging speech, Chief Justice Menon touched on key developments in Singapore's courts in the past year.

He announced that the courts have decided to allow the media to do real-time text reporting of Court of Appeal hearings from next month.

He also outlined the key challenges facing the legal sector - the growing internationalisation of legal practice, the disruptive force of technology, and the raising of professional standards through continuing education for judges and lawyers, as well as specialist accreditation.

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