Courts to hear only essential and urgent matters during 'circuit breaker' period

The Harvard Club of Singapore loses its court appeal to stop Harvard University from preceeding to resigter two trademarks in Singapore under the Trade Marks Act. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

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

All other matters that had been scheduled for hearing during this period will be adjourned, said a media release on Sunday (April 5) issued by the Supreme Court, the State Courts and the Family Justice Courts.

This takes effect on Tuesday 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 release.

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.

Trial 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, even though legal services are generally not considered essential, the Ministry of Law on Sunday identified certain categories of activities that can be carried out from the office.

These include the 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 on for a general exemption to work from the office for these categories of legal activities.

All other activities have to be approved by the Ministry of Trade and Industry on a case-by-case basis.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.