A new Appellate Division of the High Court will hear all civil appeals not allocated to the Court of Appeal under a proposed restructuring of the Supreme Court.
The new division, to be staffed by newly designated Judges of the Appellate Division, will have no criminal jurisdiction.
The change was among several tabled in Parliament yesterday by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw), which submitted for first reading the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill and the Judges' Remuneration (Amendment) Bill.
MinLaw said the three Bills seek to refine the judicial system and enhance the efficiency and flexibility of court processes.
"The reforms are being introduced against the backdrop of a growth in the number of appeals, and an increase in the complexity of the matters that have come before the Court of Appeal in recent years," the ministry said, adding that the new Appellate Division will enable the Supreme Court to better deploy limited judicial resources and manage the appeals caseload.
The Court of Appeal (commonly referred to as the apex court) will remain the apex court and will hear all appeals in criminal matters, appeals made to the Court of Appeal under written law, and prescribed categories of appeals. Such prescribed categories will be set out in a schedule to the amended Supreme Court of Judicature Act.
Among the civil matters the Court of Appeal will hear are appeals arising from cases related to constitutional and administrative law as well as contempt of court cases.
As part of the proposed changes, the Court of Appeal will also have powers to transfer cases from its jurisdiction to the Appellate Division.
Conversely, it may take over appeal cases from the Appellate Division when there is a point of law of public importance involved, making it more appropriate for the apex court to hear the case.
With the structural changes, the Supreme Court will continue to consist of the Court of Appeal, which will remain the apex court, and the High Court. However, the High Court will be restructured into the General Division of the High Court and the Appellate Division.
Any appeal against decisions made by the Appellate Division may be brought to the Court of Appeal only with the apex court's permission, which may be granted where a a point of law of public importance is raised.
MinLaw said that with the restructuring of the Supreme Court, the appeals caseload will be allocated between the existing Court of Appeal and the new Appellate Division.
"This will ensure that court processes remain efficient and maintain high standards of access to justice and quality of justice," added the ministry.
Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong had raised the prospect of a new appellate court to ease the burden on the current apex court in April this year.
He noted then that the total number of cases before the Court of Appeal rose by 56 per cent in 2018 compared to five years earlier, with Singapore positioning itself as an international hub for dispute resolution services.