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Singapore's legal system works well, strikes balance between specialisation, integration: Law Minister

Singapore's legal system works well, strikes balance between specialisation, integration: Law Minister

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 05 Nov 2020
Author: Linette Lai

Also, LSC believes that rotation provides access to a larger pool of talent, helps its officers become more well-rounded, and gives the system flexibility to accommodate officers who want to try different types of work.

Singapore's legal system is working well, and strikes a balance between specialisation and integration in the legal service, said Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam.

There are also safeguards for judicial independence, and judges with prosecutorial experience will bring further expertise to their work, he added.

Mr Shanmugam was responding in Parliament yesterday to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who had asked how many judges in the State Courts were former prosecutors in the Attorney-General's Chambers, and if the Law Ministry would review its policy on the separation of duties in the legal service.

The total number of officers in the legal service and judiciary, excluding High Court judges, is 801 - a relatively small number, Mr Shanmugam said.

In this context, there may be questions about why officers are posted between the State Courts and other parts of the legal service, he added.

He said: "Can there be independence, if they are liable to be cross-posted?"

Mr Shanmugam said the Legal Service Commission believes that rotation provides access to a larger pool of talent, helps its officers become more well-rounded, and gives the system flexibility to accommodate officers who want to try different types of work.

All movements in the legal service are overseen by personnel boards and/or committees, which are chaired by the Chief Justice and the Legal Service Commission, of which the Chief Justice is president.

Mr Shanmugam also responded to Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai's question on whether the trial process can be expedited for economically vulnerable foreign nationals.

If cases are expedited for foreigners, then Singaporeans accused of crimes will have to wait much longer, he said.

Now, there are 55 judges at the State Courts handling about 600 criminal trials each year - which is a heavy load. About 22 per cent of these cases involved foreigners, Mr Shanmugam said.

He added that the median time taken for criminal trials in the State Courts - from the time a person is charged in court to the judgment being delivered - is 15 months.

This depends on various factors such as the nature of the case, the availability of lawyers, as well as documents and witnesses.

Mr Leong also asked about the interpretation services available in the Singapore Police Force. Mr Shanmugam replied that there is a pool of interpreters available for the three official working languages as well as the more common local dialects. For foreign languages, interpreters are engaged on an ad hoc basis.

Interpreters are used when interviewees are unable to understand interviewers, or vice versa, he said. There is a framework to assess the suitability of interpreters, which includes their qualifications and relevant work experience.

In the specific case of former maid Parti Liyani, she was asked and said she could speak in Malay, Mr Shanmugam said.

"The point is whether the interviewee understands the language being used, and as I said earlier, the police have been told they must check this," he added.

Linette Lai

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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