Law ministry is looking into reform of legal code and sector: K Shanmugam

22 Jan 2016
Channel News Asia

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Law is looking into “substantive reforms” in civil and criminal law, including helping the legal industry embrace innovation to remain forward-looking, and creating new channels for talent to enter the sector, Law Minister K Shanmugam said on Friday (Jan 22).

In reviewing the civil and criminal law code, “our aim is to improve the civil justice system, improve enforcement of civil judgments, and where possible, remove unnecessary complexities in the civil justice system”, said Mr Shanmugam, in his ministry’s addendum to President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s opening address to Parliament a week earlier.

For example, in the family law sphere, the ministry is working on reforms to the Guardianship of Infants Act, the Intestate Succession Act and the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act.

But even while the laws are being reviewed, the legal industry must keep up with a rapidly-changing economic, social, and technological landscape, said Mr Shanmugam. To this end, the ministry will encourage law firms to raise productivity, deepen service and practice capabilities, encourage product innovation, and adopt new technologies.

The Ministry of Law is also working with the Education Ministry and UniSIM to build up the UniSIM Law School to train lawyers, particularly in the areas of criminal and family law – a move which will also introduce a new pathway for mid-career individuals to join the legal profession.

In line with SkillsFuture, the Ministry will also work with the Singapore Academy of Law, Singapore Institute of Legal Education and the Law Society to develop initiatives that support the continuing professional development of lawyers, said Mr Shanmugam.

“In this way, we can ensure a continued pipeline of high quality legal talent to meet the needs of our economy and society.”

But even as the industry gets a hand to build up its talent pool, law firms will be encouraged to partner the Government in delivering legal aid pro bono, with MinLaw funding the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme to ensure access to justice for the less privileged, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Home Affairs Minister.

ON THE INTERNATIONAL FRONT

The Law Ministry said it will work with legal practices and lawyers to promote Singapore as a hub for international legal services and dispute resolution, building on the establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Court and the Singapore International Mediation Centre, and the continued growth of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.

Supporting infrastructure, such as Maxwell Chambers – Singapore’s flagship dispute resolution facility – will be enhanced, said the Law Minister.

With progress having been made to develop Singapore into an Asian and global Intellectual Property hub, the ministry will review Singapore’s copyright and design protection regimes to address new developments in technology, and to facilitate the growth of the creative and copyright sector.

Singapore will implement and ratify the Hague Convention on Choice of Courts Agreements, which will make it easier for the judgments of the Singapore courts to be enforced in other countries, said Mr Shanmugam.

ON STATE LAND, MONEYLENDING AND BANKRUPTCY

MinLaw will work with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to ensure optimal use of land resources, in particular state land and state properties. The greater use of subterranean space will be explored, and more innovative use of previously untapped spaces – such as land under viaducts – encouraged, for example for sports, recreational, and social purposes.

To support the Smart Nation initiative, SLA will lead efforts to formulate Singapore’s Geospatial Master Plan, said Mr Shammugam. The implementation of a paperless registration system will simplify the title registration process and enable more self-service transactions, he added.

Following on recent measures to modernise the pawnbroking regime, more measures will be implemented to strengthen the moneylending regime, including the establishment of a centralised credit bureau for moneylenders and the introduction of an aggregate unsecured borrowing cap.

“A more rehabilitative system” that allows bankrupts to be discharged within clear timeframes will be introduced, added the Law Minister. Reforms to encourage credit providers to undertake better risk assessment, and borrowers to work responsibly towards clearing their debt, will also be introduced. In parallel, the individual bankruptcy and corporate insolvency regimes will be updated and unified into a single piece of legislation.

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