Over 500 Singapore laws to be made easier to read

The words in the new edition will come into force on Dec 31, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Over 500 of Singapore's laws will soon have simplified language and be more readable to the public.

These revised Acts of Parliament - including the Penal Code and the Trustees Act - will be included in the upcoming 2020 Revised Edition of Acts.

The 510 Acts will have modernised language and clearer expressions.

For example, the word "despite" has replaced "notwithstanding", while the phrase "to avoid doubt" is used instead of "for the avoidance of doubt".

The words in the new edition, which comes into force on Dec 31, are also more precise - one example is the use of "must" instead of "shall". Additionally, gender-neutral terms have been used, such as "chairperson" instead of "chairman", to reflect current societal norms.

Lengthy clauses have been broken down into multiple sub-clauses, while some Acts have clauses renumbered.

There are also stylistic changes, such as replacing Roman numbers with Arabic numerals.

Other changes include having a more comprehensive legislative history at the end of each Act, with information on its various amendments, revised editions and predecessor Acts.

Diagrams are used in Acts that have complex legislative histories.

The language revisions do not change the meaning of the Acts.

The revisions were undertaken by the Legislative Division of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).

It is part of the Plain Laws Understandable by Singaporeans (Plus) initiative, which seeks to ensure Singapore's laws are understandable and accessible to the public.

The AGC also aimed to ensure consistency in house styles and expressions, as well as accuracy in cross-references, across all Acts in force as far as possible.

While the revision project was formally started in August 2017, preparatory work began two years earlier, said the AGC's chief legislative counsel Jeanne Lee.

She said it was timely, as the last universal revision of Singapore's laws took place in 1985. Since then, many new Acts have been enacted and existing ones extensively amended.

The revision team had to be precise in the use of every single word and punctuation, to avoid inadvertently changing the meaning of the law, she said.

"This is probably the single biggest challenge in any revision, because even a comma or a different placement of a word can change the meaning of a provision."

The team also developed a deeper appreciation of Singapore's legal heritage, which includes British, Indian and Malaysian laws, and those from the Straits Settlements government.

"We realised that it would be a pity to lose that by modernising all the laws, so we decided to preserve the language of certain laws so that we keep the 'voice' of past legislation," said Ms Lee.

The sheer volume of the work was formidable, she said, as the 2020 revision had 510 Acts, compared with 387 in 1985.

Another challenge was tracing the legislative history of each Act, especially for older laws and those that had predecessors that had been repealed.

"These resources are not online, and the team needed to make multiple visits to various libraries," said Ms Lee, adding that the team also had to ensure consistency in the edits across the Acts.

"We had various checklists of standard and non-standard changes, but it is not as straightforward as a direct substitution and every edit needed to be considered in its context," said Ms Lee.

"When you have 30 drafters working on the Acts, there are bound to be differences in style and expression."

The new revised edition can be accessed for free at the AGC's Singapore Statutes Online website.

Hard copies can be purchased from publisher Toppan Leefung.

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