Coronavirus: Courts to hear only essential and urgent matters

In the light of the month-long "circuit breaker" measures to slow the spread of Covid-19, the courts will hear only essential and urgent matters during this period until May 4.

All other matters scheduled for hearing during this period will be adjourned, said a media statement issued on Sunday by the Supreme Court, the State Courts and the Family Justice Courts.

This takes effect from today for hearings in the Supreme Court, the Family Justice Courts and for non-criminal matters in the State Courts. It starts on April 13 for criminal matters in the State Courts.

Each of the three courts have put up circulars on their websites, setting out what are considered essential and urgent matters. "These matters will be heard, as far as possible, by electronic means of communication without requiring physical attendance before the court," said the statement.

Urgent and essential matters in the Supreme Court include criminal appeals involving a sentence of caning where the accused is approaching 50 years of age. Applications for a stay of judicial execution and applications for bail review are also among the criminal matters that will be heard.

Civil matters considered urgent and essential include appeals under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act and appeals under the Protection from Harassment Act, if there are issues of personal safety involved.

Essential and urgent criminal matters in the State Courts include producing arrested persons within 48 hours, applications to remand accused persons for investigations and the viewing of bodies by the coroner. These are to be conducted via video-link.

Trials and plead-guilty mentions for accused persons who are remanded in custody and which need to be expedited in the interests of justice will also continue. In the case of trials, witnesses, accused persons and counsel have to physically attend court unless told otherwise.

The Family Justice Courts will hear only matters that are time-sensitive, constitute a threat to life and liberty, and/or involve urgent needs of the family.

For instance, family violence proceedings will be adjourned but matters involving a higher risk of imminent danger will continue to be heard. Parties can make a request for the court to hear matters that have not been deemed to be essential and urgent. However, they have to convince the court that, among other things, the outcome is time-sensitive.

Parties can continue to file documents electronically and should not visit the court premises to submit any hard copies, said the courts.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Law on Sunday said certain legal services can continue from the office, including for urgent and essential matters specified by the courts, where attendance by lawyers is required; commercial transactions with deadlines falling within this period; and services such as the drafting of wills for the vulnerable.

Law firms are required to apply at for a general exemption to work from the office for these categories of legal activities. All other activities have to be approved by the Trade and Industry Ministry on a case-by-case basis.

  • Additional reporting by Dominic Low
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2020, with the headline 'Courts to hear only essential and urgent matters'. Print Edition | Subscribe