(May 1, 2020) On April 24, 2020, Singapore’s chief justice announced an extension to June 1, 2020, of the period during which the courts of Singapore would hear only essential and urgent matters in order to slow local transmission of COVID-19. On the same day, the Supreme Court, state courts, and family justice courts each issued registrars’ circulars concerning the extension. Previously, on April 5, 2020, the three courts had announced in a media release that the chief justice had directed them to hear only essential and urgent matters for four weeks, from April 7 to May 4, and that they had identified the matters that they considered essential and urgent.
These essential and urgent matters will be heard, as far as possible, by electronic means of communication without requiring physical attendance before the court. Unless the period is further extended, Singaporean courts will resume hearing most matters on June 8, 2020. The courts will not enter their usual recess or break in June this year.
According to the chief justice, in the past several weeks, Singaporean courts have conducted the majority of hearings using remote communication technology such as Zoom. “When court hearings and services resume after the extended period, practitioners and court users can expect that certain safeguards to prevent transmission may remain in place. In particular, it is likely that some hearings will continue to be heard by way of video or teleconferencing,” the chief justice said.
The Supreme Court, state courts, and family justice courts have each issued guidance on the use of videoconferencing and telephone conferencing for attending hearings. According to the court guidance, unauthorized audio or visual recording of hearings is strictly prohibited. Where hearings are conducted by videoconferencing, all court rules and practices on dress and etiquette continue to apply. However, it is not necessary to stand and/or bow to the court at the start or end of the hearing or to stand when addressing the court, which is required for physical attendance at hearings.