SINGAPORE: Amid the corona pandemic, the number of divorces in Singapore increased by 2 per cent from 2020 to 2021, while the number of maintenance and family violence cases dropped in the same period, reports ANN.
This comes on the back of an overall increase of 4 per cent in the Family Justice Courts’ (FJC) caseload last year. Presiding Judge Debbie Ong announced these figures in her speech at the FJC’s Workplan 2022 seminar on Friday (March 18), where she laid out plans to make court services easily accessible for the public.
Despite last year’s rise, the number of divorces in 2021 was lower than in 2019, before the coronavirus outbreak. The FJC’s higher caseload was largely due to a rise in probate cases, which concern the execution of wills.
In her speech, Justice Ong announced three thrusts that the FJC will adopt this year.
She said: “Over the past few years, we have worked hard to brainstorm on how to help families move forward. I talked a lot about the importance of adopting the “lens” of therapeutic justice and we announced some broad plans under this overarching vision. To be of real assistance, our aspirations have to be realised in practical terms.”
Under therapeutic justice, the law is seen as a social force that can produce helpful or harmful consequences, and encourages practitioners to consider emotional, social and psychological aspects of the law.
First, she outlined the FJC’s plans to further therapeutic justice such that judges, mediators and counsellors can work together to manage cases faster and more holistically.
Second, she said the FJC will facilitate better access to justice by reviewing existing pain points and leveraging technology to make the court journey smoother for court users.
“These enhancements improve access to justice in two ways: first, by making the court process simpler and friendlier for court users; and second, by equipping court users with sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions and pursue their legal rights,” she said.
One key aspect of this was the launch of the Divorce e-Service in November last year. The portal reduces time and effort in form-filling by using the parties’ personal details from MyInfo, the Government’s one-stop data platform. It also guides court users who are not represented by a lawyer by converting their details into auto-generated court forms, if they file for divorce on the simplified track.
In a bid to make court services easier to access, Justice Ong said the FJC will work on a pilot project with the Public Service Centre @ Our Tampines Hub to allow parties to file maintenance enforcement applications from locations in the heartland. From mid-May 2022, litigants will be able to file such applications at the centre.
Justice Ong said that the FJC will also be introducing a new simplified filing and show-cause procedure in the Family Justice Rules for breaches of such orders.
“This will complement the recent amendments to the Women’s Charter in January early this year, which provide for broader powers for the court to order make-up access, impose fines, forfeit bonds and order imprisonment against a recalcitrant parent,” she said.
Lastly, she said the FJC will continue to enhance the capabilities and capacity of family practice in Singapore by setting up a judicial training committee to put together a curriculum for new family judges to receive specialist training.
In her speech, Justice Ong noted that adversarial and aggressive practices that undermine therapeutic justice at the FJC will have consequences.
The court could order that costs - a term that refers to expenses such as lawyer’s fees and administrative fees - be borne by parties who take up adversarial stances where parties compete with each other for their best interest.