SINGAPORE: As part of its measures to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak, Singapore’s judiciary will be enabling certain court hearings to be heard via teleconference or video conference, the Chief Justice said in a speech on Thursday (Mar 26).

Pilots have been run for selected hearings in the Court of Appeal and High Court to be heard via video-conference, and more of such hearings will be increased to include trials in the High Court.

In the State Courts, accused persons in criminal cases who have lawyers do not need to attend pre-trial conferences or mentions, while video conferencing will be implemented for remanded accused persons.

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Civil cases in the State Courts will have all case management hearings and related pre-trial applications conducted via video conferencing or email.

From Mar 30 in the Family Courts, all counselling will done by video conferencing, while chamber hearings will be conducted via Zoom video-conference or written submissions. 

From Mar 25, all mentions in Youth Court will be done by video conference from the Boys and Girls Homes. Guilty pleas and sentencing for such offenders will proceed via Zoom video conference from Mar 30.

From Apr 1, no more than two lawyers or litigants per party may appear at a hearing, unless requests for exemption are made to the court and granted.

“We will continue to explore further methods to minimise the need for the physical attendance of practitioners and court users in the court buildings,” said CJ Menon.

EXISTING MEASURES INCLUDE SUSPENDING TOURS, SAFE DISTANCING

These measures are on top of existing steps that were recently imposed, such as suspending all guided tours, closing libraries and heritage galleries at both the State and Supreme Courts, and marking out seats in courts for safe distancing.

Cleaning of common areas in court buildings such as lifts, restrooms and lobbies have been increased, with frequent points of contact such as lift buttons disinfected on an hourly basis.

Since Feb 3 this year, all court users and visitors have been required to complete a declaration form before they can enter the court building. The form requires them to declare that they are not unwell, serving quarantine orders, stay-home notices, leaves of absence or were recently in close contact with a suspected case.

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Those who have been barred from entering the building for hearings may be able to attend hearings by video conference or seek adjournments, said CJ Menon. 

Hearings in the Supreme Court have been staggered, along with certain hearings with multiple attendees in the State Courts.

As of Wednesday night, Singapore has had a total of 631 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which 160 have recovered and 17 are in critical condition.

“COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruptions to the daily routines of institutions and individuals, both in Singapore and around the world,” said CJ Menon. 

“This collective challenge demands a collective response, which must begin with our willingness to adapt to change and pursue new solutions. The challenge for the judiciary is to sustain our justice system while protecting court users, as far as possible, from the risk of transmission. We ask for your patience but also your readiness to access the justice system in new and perhaps unfamiliar ways.”

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