New division to ease caseload on Court of Appeal
Appellate Division's formation part of move to boost courts' efficiency.
Singapore's High Court is set to get a new division, as part of a move to refine the justice system and increase the efficiency of the courts.
This new Appellate Division of the High Court will hear all civil appeals not allocated to the Court of Appeal, and this will help to distribute the caseload between the two courts.
Its formation was given the nod in Parliament yesterday, with the passing of three Bills: the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill and the Judges' Remuneration (Amendment) Bill.
The new division will be staffed by newly designated Judges of the Appellate Division.
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said its formation would help to address the growing caseload the Court of Appeal had faced in recent years.
In 2013, there were 314 civil and criminal matters filed at the Court of Appeal. Last year, the number swelled to 490 - a 56 per cent increase since 2013.
"The increased caseload and complexity of matters have stretched the resources of the Court of Appeal," said Mr Tong, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health.
He also said that while the court has taken interim measures to address these issues, these are but stop-gap moves.
With the setting up of the new division, several new features will be introduced as well to the justice system.
Among other reforms, the High Court will now consist of two divisions: the General Division and the new Appellate Division. The General Division will retain the jurisdiction and powers of the existing High Court.
Meanwhile, appeals arising from a decision of the General Division will be divided between the Appellate Division and the existing Court of Appeal.
In general, criminal appeals will be heard by the Court of Appeal, while the Appellate Division will hear all civil appeals not allocated to the apex court.
"The reforms will help address the growing appellate caseload, and allow the Court of Appeal to focus its resources as appropriate," Mr Tong said.
"Together, the amendments will further enhance a judicial system that is robust, flexible and allows for the effective administration of justice."
Several MPs raised questions about parts of the Bills when they were being debated, including whether judgments made by the Appellate Division would override those made in the Court of Appeal.
Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) asked how and how many Appellate Division Judges are to be chosen, and if these judges would be drawn from the existing cohort of the High Court.
Nominated MP Walter Theseira suggested that to strengthen the capability and flexibility of Singapore's judicial system, the desirable length of tenure that protects judges against political or public interference could be considered.
He also asked if there was indeed an ideal tenure length and whether it would be better to appoint Supreme Court judges for fixed terms, rather than until a set retirement age.
Mr Tong replied that at least three judges from the current High Court will be appointed to the Appellate Division, with additional appointments to be made if necessary.
Judgments made at the Court of Appeal will also take precedence, as it will remain Singapore's highest court in the land, followed by the Appellate Division, and then the General Division of the High Court.
On the retirement age of Supreme Court judges being set at 65, Mr Tong said tenures for judges could not be compared to retirement age. Like in other countries, there was no direct correlation between judges' tenure and the retirement age for employees in general.
Percentage increase in the number of civil and criminal matters filed at the Court of Appeal from 2013 to last year.
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