Proposed amendments to improve court processes and control 'vexatious' cases

The Ministry of Law said the changes would allow the High Court or Court of Appeal to act on its own to restrain a vexatious litigant "to varying degrees".
The Ministry of Law said the changes would allow the High Court or Court of Appeal to act on its own to restrain a vexatious litigant "to varying degrees".PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) is looking at tightening procedures to grant the courts greater powers to control "vexatious" proceedings, or matters which may not have sufficient grounds to proceed.

In a statement on the proposed amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (SCJA), which were put to public consultation on Monday (July 2), the ministry said the changes would allow the High Court or Court of Appeal to act on its own to restrain a vexatious litigant "to varying degrees".

MinLaw did not cite a specific case in its statement, but said the proposed changes would allow the courts to take a "nuanced approach", as opposed to a total ban on all further legal proceedings brought by such a litigant, which is the case now.

It is among several changes to court processes and procedures that the ministry is looking into.

"Vexatious proceedings typically have very little prospect of success, but the litigant might continue to pursue the matter," said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan.

"When the individual cannot win the case on merit, sometimes they look at various methods including judicial review. This is often at the expense of the court's and other party's resources."

He said: "The concern is that vexatious proceedings, if pursued, will amount to an abuse of court processes and the inappropriate use of the court's time and public resources."

In one particular case in 2016, a woman was ordered by the highest court to seek its permission if she wants to sue again in future. Over a 16-year period, the former civil servant had filed a series of suits demanding a judicial review, claiming to be the victim of a wrongful dismissal.

In judgment grounds then, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash said: "If such an order is not made, the vexatious litigant, having lost sight of rationality or reality and being armed with an aggravated sense of injustice about his case, is very likely to persist indefinitely in instituting legal proceedings."

The proposed changes to the SCJA would, among other things, allow the court to order that no further documents be filed if it found that doing so would be vexatious or for an improper purpose.

The amendments, if passed, would also let the Court of Appeal dismiss on its own motion, appeals or applications in cases, if the matter relates to an issue that has already been decided by the Court of Appeal or where it lacks jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Other changes include allowing the Supreme Court to conduct hearings via video conference or other electronic means. At present, the law does not provide for the general conduct of hearings via video conference, except when witnesses in civil cases are giving evidence.

The wider use of technology for civil hearings, said MinLaw, will save time and cost and improve efficiency of court processes.

MinLaw said it is also looking at allowing the courts to impose late filing fees for non-compliance with the Rules of Court, court orders, and practice directions, to encourage parties and their lawyers to comply with them.

The amendments, if passed, would also encourage parties to present all relevant evidence at the first instance hearing as they will have to seek the court's permission before they can admit further evidence on appeal.

The ministry also intends to strengthen procedures for Court of Appeal cases and are looking into allowing appeals in civil matters from the State Courts to be brought directly to the Court of Appeal in situations where a ruling is required urgently.

In such cases, permission of the Court of Appeal will be needed, and the appeal must involve points of law of general public importance.

"This will apply in civil cases where there is strong public interest and will ensure the court can respond with appropriate haste," said Prof Tan.

The public consultation on the proposed amendments to the SCJA will run from July 2 to 30.

Members of public can view the public consultation paper online at https://www.mlaw.gov.sg/content/minlaw/en/news/public-consultations/Publ... and submit feedback to MLAW_Consultation@mlaw.gov.sg