From next Wednesday, Singapore courts will allow no more than two lawyers or litigants per party to appear at a hearing, as part of the raft of measures introduced in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, in a message to court users and practitioners, said that the judiciary will, over the next few weeks, allow more matters to be heard via tele-and video conferencing, as well as written submissions and e-mail.
"The Singapore judiciary has been actively monitoring the rapidly evolving Covid-19 situation," the Chief Justice said yesterday on the social distancing measures.
He was writing on precautionary measures put in place to ensure continuity of court operations and services while safeguarding the health and safety of practitioners, court users and officers of the courts.
In order to minimise the number of people in the courtroom at any one time, hearings before judges and registrars in the Supreme Court have been assigned staggered timings whenever necessary to avoid congregation of those attending court.
The State Courts have also staggered the commencement times for court hearings involving numerous attendees, including sessions before the Night Courts.
The Learning Court and the Judicial Heritage Gallery at the Supreme Court and the Heritage Gallery at the State Courts have been temporarily closed to minimise the number of court visitors.
All guided tours have also been suspended and the libraries in the Supreme Court and State Courts will also be closed until further notice.
The latest measures follow others introduced earlier.
Since Feb 3, all practitioners, court users and visitors have been required to complete a declaration form before they are permitted to enter the court building.
Among other things, an individual will not be allowed into the court building if he is serving a quarantine order, stay-home notice, leave of absence or is feeling unwell and has a fever and/or flu-like symptoms, however mild.
Practitioners and court users who are not permitted to enter the court building to attend scheduled hearings may be able to attend hearings by video conference or otherwise seek an adjournment of the hearing through online channels.
On the judiciary's plans to implement measures to allow more matters to be heard by teleconference, video conference, written submissions and e-mail, the Chief Justice said: "We have been exploring these solutions with the Attorney-General's Chambers, The Law Society of Singapore and the Singapore Prison Service, and are grateful for their support and cooperation."
He further announced various measures that have been implemented, or may soon be implemented, at the Supreme Court, State Courts and Family Justice Courts to enable remote hearings.
These include video conference hearings for selected matters before the Court of Appeal and the High Court. Among other things, from next Monday, all Family Justice Courts hearings in chambers will be conducted by video conference using Zoom or by way of written submissions for counsel.
In the State Courts, applications for adjournments and matters that are not contested will be managed online without the need for parties to attend court.
The Chief Justice said that Covid-19, which has caused unprecedented disruptions to the daily routines of institutions and individuals, is a collective challenge demanding a "collective response, which must begin with a willingness to adapt to change and pursue new solutions".
Lawyers said that the moves were meant to minimise Covid-19 spread, noting that they have significantly cut physical attendance in court.
"My court movements have been reduced by more than 50 per cent," said lawyer Peter Ong Lip Cheng, who frequently travels to the courts from his office in Peninsula Plaza.
View the Chief Justice's message at: www.supremecourt.gov.sg/docs/default-source/module-document/speech/message-from-cj-on-covid-19.pdf
Courts' anti-coronavirus moves
BUSINESS CONTINUITY MEASURES
The judges, judicial officers and staff of the Supreme Court, Family Justice Courts and State Courts have been physically segregated into two teams.
Since Feb 3, all practitioners, court users and visitors have been required to complete a declaration form before they are permitted to enter the court building. However, the Learning Court and the Judicial Heritage Gallery at the Supreme Court and the Heritage Gallery at the State Courts are temporarily closed.
With effect from next Wednesday, no more than two lawyers/litigants per party may appear at a hearing. Other measures: Spacing in queue lines, spaced-out front-line counters and seats at waiting areas and viewing galleries.
Staggered timings for court hearings to avoid congregation of court attendees whenever necessary.
Over the next few weeks, the judiciary will implement measures to allow more matters to be heard by teleconference, video conference, written submissions and e-mail, among other things.