Foreword by the Registrar
The Supreme Court charted a steady course in 2009, despite the uncertain global economy and myriad challenges in Singapore’s legal landscape. The leadership of the Chief Justice, together with the untiring efforts of the Judges and staff of the Supreme Court, had steered the Judiciary through the tempest. Amidst this, the Supreme Court was awarded, for the very first time, the Singapore Quality Class Star Award, which affirms our commitment to organisational excellence and the dedication of our staff to work as one in the face of challenges.
One such challenge in the economic downturn was the upsurge in writ actions, which constitute our core hearing load. Writ filings increased for the third time this decade, and by a hefty 20% over the previous year. The timely implementation of case management measures, with the support of the Bar, one of our main stakeholders, enabled us to again surpass our key performance indicator of concluding 85% of writ actions within 18 months of their filing – an ambitious target by any standard.
Staying on top of the caseload while ensuring access to and the highest quality of justice remain imperative for the Supreme Court. We have primed ourselves with a slew of case management initiatives that include adapting best practices from other jurisdictions to streamline our court procedures even further. We have also worked tirelessly with the Bar to promote greater access to justice. We actively encouraged and facilitated more participation in pro bono legal services, and the use of alternative dispute resolution processes in appropriate cases. Apart from such measures, it is beyond question that the three newly-appointed Judicial Commissioners will assist the Supreme Court in achieving the timely disposal of disputes, and more importantly, in dispensing the highest quality of justice in each case.
The other areas of emphasis for the Supreme Court were internationalisation and community outreach. We continued to foster and deepen relations with our foreign counterparts and friends, and in this regard, were delighted to host 11 Chief Justices and visitors from 46 countries during the year. Reflecting our strong ties with the United Kingdom Judiciary, Steven Whitaker, Senior Master of the Senior Courts of England and Wales and The Queen’s Remembrancer, visited and mentored our 8 legal officers on the UK Civil Procedure Rules. The Supreme Court continued to play a significant role in Singapore’s drive to be a leading legal hub and magnet for other judiciaries. Alongside the Subordinate Courts and international partners, we organised the Third Roundtable Meeting of the Asia Pacific Judicial Reform Forum 2009, which was attended by six foreign Chief Justices and delegates from judiciaries and organisations of over 25 countries including Australia, China, India, Russia, the UK and the USA.
This year also saw the fruition of The Living Courthouse, a major outreach project that was conceptualised in 2008 to educate the public about the judicial process and the workings of the Supreme Court. The event was a resounding success, drawing some 23,000 visitors over a single weekend. We also received much positive public feedback on both traditional and social media platforms, particularly online blogs. On a personal note, I was deeply moved by the strong sense of ownership demonstrated by the staff who worked in unison to bring our vision to life. I am confident that the qualities I witnessed represent a larger commitment to uphold the Supreme Court as a public institution dedicated to the service of the people.
As we seek even greater excellence in judicial administration, staff training and development remain key. In 2009, the Supreme Court embarked on a major initiative – the Case Management Officer Scheme – to transform the Legal Directorate. This scheme, which will carry into 2010, will expand our staff’s job scope and upgrade their job functions. Our staff will have a better appreciation of the entire litigation process and be empowered to meet the more demanding information requirements of our time. We need nothing less than such a “hardcore cultural change” to position ourselves for the future.
2009 has been a busy and fulfilling year, as you will see in this annual report. Moving ahead, there will always be mountains to conquer. We must continue to be forward and outward looking. At the same time, we must consolidate our efforts to build upon all that we have achieved. Employee engagement remains high, and high on our priorities. We will leverage on learning and innovation, central themes in our next workplan, to further develop the necessary skill sets and mindsets of our people. Supported by the rigorous work processes that we are continually improving, there is no doubt that we will take the Supreme Court to even higher peaks.
Foo Chee Hock
Registrar, Supreme Court of Singapore