SINGAPORE - Singapore moved to make its laws more navigable, accessible and easily understood, with Parliament passing the Statute Law Reform Bill on Tuesday (Jan 5).
The new law will provide for the greater use of simplified language in legislation, for example through the removal of lengthy phrases and archaic words such as "hereinafter" and "hereby", shorter sentences, more paragraphing, and replacing "shall" with "must" to signify legal obligations.
Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong gave these examples during the debate on the Bill on Tuesday. He shared that from 2011 to 2015, 160 Bills were introduced in Parliament. From 2015 to 2020, this rose to 225, with the length of each Bill also increasing over time.
As the Singapore Statute Book grows in size, it is even more important that laws remain "user-friendly", said Mr Tong, adding that since 2014, a conscious attempt has been made to use plain English while drafting new laws.
He noted that Singapore's Law Revision Commission has been working on a revised edition of the entire Statute Book since August 2017. This will be the first universal revision since the 1985 edition, which contained 387 Acts and numbered about 8,000 pages. The 2020 edition is estimated to contain about 510 Acts and 27,000 pages.
Under the new law, Law Revision Commissioners will have additional powers to make editorial changes to align legislation with modern drafting practices, but without changing their meaning.
Another part of the new law will repeal obsolete laws - such as an Act enacted in 1941 to compensate war injuries suffered by workers or civil defence volunteers during World War II.
The Bill also supports Covid-19 continuity arrangements for parliamentary sittings, by amending the definition of "Parliament" to include not just Parliament House but also any other place appointed by the President.
In May last year, the Constitution was amended to enable Parliament and its MPs to meet in multiple locations in times of exigencies.
The new law further clarifies that privileges, powers and immunities of Parliament and its members will extend to all places appointed by the President under the continuity arrangements.
It also updates the system for delegation of ministerial functions, by creating a two-tier framework for delegating to either political officeholders in the same ministry, or public officers and public bodies.
"This will help to ensure that public administration is carried out smoothly and efficiently to meet the challenges of the day," said Mr Tong. "The responsible minister remains accountable to Parliament for how a function is performed by his or her delegate."