Words used in court to be simplified, remote hearings to be allowed under proposed changes to law

A key plank of the Bill is to simplify some legal terms to make laws easier for people to understand.
A key plank of the Bill is to simplify some legal terms to make laws easier for people to understand.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The courtroom of the future will no longer use words like plaintiff, subpoena or in-camera hearing under proposed rules to simplify language used in court and the statute books.

Instead, words like claimants, orders to attend court and hearings in private will replace the outdated terms under a new Bill introduced in Parliament on Monday (July 26).

Other proposed changes include holding court hearings through a video link, and even hearings without lawyers present.

The changes proposed in the Courts (Civil and Criminal Justice) Reform Bill are aimed at supporting digital transformation plans, and are part of efforts to keep the legal system efficient and accessible for everyone, said the Law Ministry in a statement.

The move comes on the heels of recent reforms to the court system, which includes the creation of a new Appellate Division of the High Court to hear appeals in civil cases.

By the end of the year, new Rules of Court will be put in place to streamline the litigation process.

In the statement, Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong said: "Our courts play a critical role in upholding the rule of law, through the fair administration of justice.

"Together with the operationalisation of the Appellate Division of the High Court, and the forthcoming implementation of the new Rules of Court, the Courts Reform Bill will ensure that our courts are future-ready and equipped to meet the evolving needs of society."

A key plank of the Bill is to simplify some legal terms to make laws easier for people to understand.

To that end, terms like writ of summons will be changed to originating claims and ex-parte application will become application without notice, among others.

The courts will also have the power to conduct proceedings via electronic means under another proposed change to the rules.

This is aimed at making it more convenient for those involved in court cases and to help reduce the costs of litigation.

For instance, expert witnesses from overseas will be allowed to give evidence via a live video-link without coming to Singapore.

The proposed law also allows for a mechanism called a documents-only hearing, in which documents from all parties are submitted electronically and judges make a ruling based on these written submissions.

This makes cases more cost effective, as the parties involved will no longer have to make oral arguments before a judge when it is unnecessary, said Minlaw.

"In considering how proceedings should be conducted, the court will consider the facts and circumstances of each case, and ensure that proceedings are conducted in a manner that is fair to all parties," said the ministry.

The Bill will also implement recommendations of the Civil Justice Commission set up in 2015, and Civil Justice Review Committee set up in 2016, to review the civil justice system.

These recommendations include giving the court the power to order parties to attempt to resolve their disputes through more amicable methods, for example through negotiation or mediation.