Judges keeping up with the times

As the world becomes increasingly complex and the role of judges changes, they need to upgrade their skills to become more effective.

In the Singapore Judicial College's (SJC's) annual report last year, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said it "plays a critical role in ensuring that our judges receive relevant and robust continuing education".

Judicial Commissioners Chua Lee Ming and Kannan Ramesh told The Straits Times about the challenges that judges face today, and how the SJC helps them overcome them.

JC Chua said: "We need to be aware of the environment that we operate in because the law does not operate in a vacuum.

"As such, we have to stay in touch with developments outside the law to be more effective judges."

During the opening of the legal year in January, CJ Menon highlighted the need for a more judge-led process in which they proactively direct proceedings, especially in the area of medical litigation.

JC Ramesh said: "CJ Menon's call for active judicial participation in certain cases is a timely reminder that a calibrated approach designed for the needs of the case may be required to achieve the ends of justice."

But that does not change the core values and responsibilities of a judge. "Patience, sound temperament laced with good judgment and firmness remain necessary attributes."

JC Chua said a judge-led process will require stronger case management skills.

"The SJC will include in 2016 a focus on enhancing judicial case management skills, with talks on judge-led processes and effective engagement of litigants-in-person planned."

On handling difficult litigants, JC Ramesh said: "We have institutionalised case management conferences for such cases. This enables the court to review and analyse with the parties the issues in the matter and map the conduct of the trial...

"When litigants are less than cooperative or regarded as difficult, there must be greater vigilance to ensure that the litigant is not disenfranchised..."

Ng Keng Gene

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Judges keeping up with the times'. Subscribe