Even as 2008 will be remembered as the start of a challenging period for Singapore, a commitment to core ideals as well as forward thinking have enabled the Supreme Court to be nimble in adapting to the swiftly changing economic and legal landscape. Under the leadership of the Chief Justice, and with the support of the Judges and staff of the Supreme Court, we have maintained our hard-earned reputation for effectiveness and efficiency. Notably, we have achieved high rankings in the international perception surveys conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy and the International Institute for Management Development. Our standards for the efficient management of cases are comparable to the leading judiciaries of the world. These accomplishments have not come easily; rather, they are the culmination of four major initiatives.
First, we have primed ourselves to respond to the quantitative and qualitative changes in modern civil litigation. We anticipated that the trend of gradual decline in our writ caseload experienced since 2001, might be abruptly reversed in certain postulated scenarios. Against the backdrop of the current economic downturn, amongst other causes, an upsurge in writ filings had indeed materialised. This mental preparedness has allowed us to promptly implement supply-side measures to increase our hearing capacity and prevent any slowdown in the court system. Although the number of writs filed in 2008 increased by 24% over the previous year, our disposal rate for writ actions this year had also increased over last year. This is significant as writ actions are our core business. The overall disposal rates for non-writ actions and all interlocutory applications have remained healthy.
Qualitatively, civil litigation in Singapore is becoming increasingly complex. We have responded swiftly to deal with these developments, not least in their logistical aspects. For example, this year, to accommodate one of the biggest civil cases involving multiple parties and a record number of counsel, the Supreme Court auditorium was converted into a “Mega Court”, complete with technology court facilities.
Second, we have raised our profile in international judicial forums and expanded our influence internationally as thought leaders in the community of judiciaries. “Reaching Out” was the theme of our two-year workplan which commenced in 2008, born out of the adoption of a longer-term and more outward looking perspective in our strategic planning. To this end, a new International Relations Unit was set up to grow our network with foreign counterparts in a focused and institutionalised manner. We have been rewarded by increased recognition and confidence reposed in us by our counterparts.
This year saw the Supreme Court hosting delegates from more than 70 countries who came to study our experience in judicial reform. These visits enabled us to showcase some of our strengths, including our pioneering efforts in leveraging technology to serve the ends of justice. In turn, we learned much from others’ experiences in dealing with the same and other challenges.
Third, even as the Supreme Court reached beyond our shores, we continued to build more bridges locally with both the legal fraternity and the public in Singapore. Regular consultation with the Bar through dialogue sessions or other platforms, both official and informal, was a routine feature of our work in 2008. Such consultation served as a forum for lawyers to share their perspectives on what it takes on “the other side” of the Bench to achieve justice, as well as to provide valuable feedback on the policies and direction that we have undertaken as a whole.
We have also sought to demystify the court process by affording the public more opportunities to visit and learn about the Supreme Court. One key project conceptualised in 2008 is “The Living Courthouse”, which will take place in March 2009. This large-scale educational event will feature interactive displays, ‘live’ enactments and talks on legal matters of general interest. This is our first major public event since moving to the new Supreme Court building and we hope to give visitors a full measure of the experience of having their “day in court”.
Finally, we have cast a vote of confidence for the future by investing in our people. Crucially, we are continually working to build a core team of court administrators, with the right skills and mindsets to manage change. In this regard, the Supreme Court has invested heavily in training at all levels, as well as introduced new management programmes for our middle and senior management. At the same time, with the incorporation of more family-friendly initiatives, we are confident that our total people-centric package will enable us to be an employer of choice.
I am proud to say that our commitment to deliver timely, accessible and quality justice remains stronger than ever. We have faced the challenges of this unpredictable time head-on, and have made this an opportunity for introducing rejuvenating changes of our own. I am confident that the Supreme Court, like the rest of Singapore, will emerge from adversity not weakened but invigorated.
Foo Chee Hock
Acting Registrar, Supreme Court of Singapore
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