SINGAPORE - The courts in Singapore will continue to hear only essential and urgent matters until June 1, in tandem with the one-month extension of the circuit breaker measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Hearings for all other matters will be adjourned, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said on Friday (April 24) in a message to update court users and practitioners on the judiciary's response to Covid-19.
"We will continue to take all measures to minimise the risk of transmission for judges, court staff, practitioners and court users, while balancing this against the need to maintain access to justice even in these challenging times," he said.
The Supreme Court will forgo its usual mid-year court vacation in June to deal with matters that have piled up during the period.
The State Courts and Family Justice Courts will likewise continue hearing matters in June without their usual break, he said.
The courts aim to resume hearings for most matters on June 8, barring further extensions.
Even then, certain safeguards to prevent transmission of the coronavirus are likely to continue, such as having some hearings conducted by video or teleconferencing.
Chief Justice Menon gave an update on the number of court hearings that have been conducted in the past weeks using remote communication technology such as Zoom.
In the past week alone, the Family Court had fixed for remote hearing 23 trials of urgent matters concerning maintenance, and the Youth Court had fixed for remote hearing 33 matters.
Similarly, the State Courts conducted remote hearings for 17 pre-trial conferences, 28 plead-guilty mentions and 99 other mentions this week.
The Supreme Court, which comprises the Court of Appeal and the High Court, has fixed 19 hearings to be conducted remotely.
The Court of Appeal on Thursday delivered a judgment in a drug trafficking case via Zoom. Next week, two remote hearings have been scheduled, including the appeal of a rapist, sentenced to 32 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane, who turns 50 in June. Men above 50 cannot be caned.
"We are immensely grateful for the support and cooperation of the Bar, the Attorney-General's Chambers, Singapore Prisons and all court users in working with us to find ways to ensure that essential judicial services can be accessed," said Chief Justice Menon.
Commenting on the message, lawyer Justin Chan said the Chief Justice's point on remote hearings was significant and "reflective of the times".
"Platforms like Zoom have been around for a while but because of Covid-19, our hand has been forced," said the senior partner and head of dispute resolution at Tito Isaac & Co.
"I don't think a lawyer's presentation will be greatly affected as long as proper decorum and professionalism are respected," Mr Chan added.