A NEW network that eventually connects courts of key commercial centres to improve cross-border insolvency is one area Singapore's judiciary is looking at enhancing this year, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon as he shared a series of plans at the opening of the legal year on Monday morning.
He said the promotion of court-to-court arrangements in cross-border insolvency has become more relevant as corporations now operate in multiple jurisdictions.
So, guidelines must be developed to shape the nature and extent of communications between courts from different jurisdictions and these efforts are led by judicial commissioners Aedit Abdullah and Kannan Ramesh.
In terms of improving criminal justice here, the Law Minister, Attorney-General and CJ Menon have discussed the possibility of setting up a Criminal Procedures Rules Committee that will make rules to govern the conduct of criminal proceedings, including subpoena of witnesses or discovery of documents.
On civil justice, CJ Menon said the District Court's civil monetary jurisdictional limit of S$250,000 is likely to be reviewed this year, as the last revision was in 1997.
At the same time, his team is also looking at increasing the current limit of S$10,000 of the Small Claims Tribunal.
Another key development in civil justice relates to medical litigation.
Medical care is of direct concern to Singaporeans and the justice system must avoid a situation "where the practice of medicine comes to be adversely affected by the medical practitioner's consciousness of the risks of malpractice liability", said Mr Menon, who added that this can lead to the practice of "defensive medicine" and higher insurance costs.
So the judiciary is now evaluating adoption of three measures: promoting alternative dispute resolution especially mediation as a primary step, particularly for cases relating to medical malpractice; moving towards a judge-led process that is less adversarial; and allowing medical assessors to assist judges.
To this end, Mr Menon said a standing panel of medical assessors comprising senior doctors nominated by the Singapore Medical Council will be set up, while a list of medical litigation judges will be introduced in both the High Court and State Courts.
To prepare for the future, the judiciary began working with the Infocomm Development Authority last year to explore technology-driven initiatives.
A "Courts of the Future Taskforce" led by Justice Lee Seiu Kin is to anticipate future needs of court users and develop strategies to meet them.
The Taskforce has received several ideas including use of artificial intelligence and natural language technology to enhance accessibility of information, as well as automation of certain applications, the CJ added.
In wrapping up his speech, Mr Menon also announced the appointment of Professor Ng-Loy Wee Loon as Senior Counsel.