Vexatious cases: Courts may get more powers

Proposed changes aimed at matters that may not have sufficient grounds to proceed

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has proposed tightening procedures to grant courts greater powers to control "vexatious" proceedings, matters that may not have sufficient grounds to proceed.

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

MinLaw did not cite a specific case, but said that 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. These are among several changes to court processes and procedures that the ministry is looking into.

"Vexatious proceedings typically have 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 he looks at various methods including judicial review. This is often at the expense of the court's and other party's resources."

He said it could amount to an abuse of court processes and inappropriate use of the court's time and public resources.

In a 2016 case, a woman was ordered by the highest court to seek its permission if she wanted to sue again in the future. The former civil servant had, over a 16-year period, filed a series of suits demanding a judicial review, claiming to be a victim of 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 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. If passed, they would also let the Court of Appeal dismiss, on its own motion, appeals or applications in cases where the matter relates to an issue it has already decided on, or where it lacks jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Other changes include allowing courts to conduct civil hearings via video conference or other electronic means.

The ministry also intends to strengthen procedures for Court of Appeal cases. It is 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 it must involve points of law of general public importance.

The public consultation on the proposed amendments to the SCJA runs until July 30.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2018, with the headline 'Vexatious cases: Courts may get more powers'. Print Edition | Subscribe