Foreword by the Chief Justice
2009 was a difficult year for many service sectors in Singapore, but it was a good one for the Supreme Court in terms of performance. In view of the global economic crisis, we had expected a double-digit percentage increase in the total number of case filings, which would have posed a challenge for our case disposal rates, but that did not materialise.
As it turned out, the 6% increase in the total civil and criminal caseload between 2008 and 2009 was evenly matched by a similar percentage increase in the number of cases disposed of over the same period. Overall, our case disposal rate was 96% in 2009, with 14,295 disposals and 14,817 filings. At the Court of Appeal, the number of appeal cases disposed of increased by 34% over the last year. Significantly, there were 201 additional hearing and trial days recorded in 2009, representing an increase of 11% over the previous year. There was also a 16% rise in the number of written judgments rendered this year. These statistics reflect the increased productivity of the Supreme Court, and I am hopeful that we will continue to surpass our performance targets in the year ahead despite any increase in caseload.
This hope is buttressed by the fact that the Supreme Court Bench has been strengthened with the addition of three new Judicial Commissioners, viz., Mr Quentin Loh, SC, Dr Philip Pillai and Mr Steven Chong, SC. Each of them brings a wealth of experience in litigation and corporate law that will certainly lead to the quicker determination of factual and legal issues presented to them for decision. Since their appointments just a few months ago, their contributions have been evident, both in the number of cases they have disposed of, as well as the calibre of judgments they have delivered.
The quality of justice is as, if not more, important than efficiency in the administration of justice. In this regard, I am heartened to note that the consistently high standards of the High Court Bench appear to be shown by the drop in the total number of appeals to the Court of Appeal from 225 in 2008 to 203 in 2009. These figures are, in my view, particularly significant given the current practice in which the Court of Appeal is prepared to hear any relevant argument—even novel and innovative ones—that counsel may choose to raise. Indeed, in appropriate cases, the Court of Appeal even proactively raises legal points which counsel may have missed. Thus, any drop in the number of appeals is a good indication of the Bar’s perception of the quality and correctness of the decisions rendered in the trial courts.
Another positive development relates to the court appearances of Senior Counsel, a topic I have discussed on previous occasions. The average number of appearances in the trial courts in 2009 increased to 14 days, as compared to 11 days in 2008. This is encouraging because the courts have a formidable competitor in arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution process. I would like to take this opportunity to urge Senior Counsel to lead by example and be good role models to aspiring young advocates. I also hope that the Senior Counsel Forum will continue to play an active role in raising the standard of advocacy in our courts.
The administration of justice, like politics, is local. There is no doubt that we are in the best position to judge what may be the most appropriate and necessary for our own circumstances. Together with the other stakeholders of our justice system, we must do justice by our people according to our own laws and legal processes. With this in mind, we will stand by the norms and principles that infuse our laws and apply them in service of the public without fear or favour.
We have had a fruitful year that we can look back on with a measure of pride and satisfaction. This year’s accomplishments would not have been possible without the public service spirit and tireless work of the Judges, Judicial Commissioners and Judicial Officers, and all the staff of the Supreme Court. As we stand together at the threshold of a new year, the Supreme Court renews its unwavering commitment to the administration of justice and to serving the people of Singapore with excellence.
Chan Sek Keong
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Singapore