The conduct of medical lawsuits is set to undergo some change, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said on Monday (Jan 11) at the opening of Legal Year 2016.
The changes are necessary to avoid “defensive medication” – where the practice of medicine is adversely affected by a doctor’s consciousness of the risks of liability from any malpractice – and higher insurance costs, CJ Menon said.
The courts will be evaluating the adoption of three overlapping measures: Promoting mediation as a primary step in resolving disputes relating to medical malpractice, shifting from the present adversarial model to a more judge-led process, and the possible appointing of medical assessors to assist judges in medical lawsuits.
CJ Menon said he has discussed this with medical watchdog Singapore Medical Council and they have agreed on “some initial steps in this process of re-imagining our medical litigation paradigm”.
A panel of medical assessors made up of doctors nominated by the SMC will be established. A medical litigation list of judges will also be set up in the High Court and State Court to handle these cases, CJ Menon said.
Two civil-justice changes in the State Courts this year will take place. The District Court’s jurisdiction will extend beyond civil cases exceeding S$250,000 – the current limit has been in place since 1997. The Small Claims tribunal could also hear cases where amounts involved exceed S$10,000.
COURTS TO BECOME “FUTURE-READY”
A taskforce, led by Justice Lee Seiu Kin, has also been appointed to study ways to get the courts “future-ready”, said CJ Menon.
The taskforce, which could make recommendations as early as this year, is exploring ideas such as the use of artificial intelligence and natural language technology to enhance accessibility to information, to cut waiting times, automate certain applications and more.
MORE COMMUNITY-BASED SENTENCING OPTIONS: AG
Also giving speeches were Attorney-General and Public Prosecutor VK Rajah and President of the Law Society Thio Shen-Yi.
While it is in the public’s interest to “vigorously prosecute” crimes such as violent crime, organised crime, corruption and drug trafficking, community sentences could be considered for less serious crimes, Mr Rajah said.
In cases of serious crime, prosecutors will continue to push for “robust sentences”, he said. But where punishment is not the main or only consideration, community sentences have been an under-utilised option, he said, adding that he has asked prosecutors to invite the court to consider community sentences in the right cases.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers will also continue to ensure cases progress through the court “in good time” as “the wait for justice should not be another type of punishment”, Mr Rajah said.
Law Society President Mr Thio paid tribute to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s contribution to the rule of law here and noted the expansion of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme in the last year. Mr Thio also called for a re-evaluation of what is considered a “reasonable time” for accused persons’ access to counsel.
An accused may be detained for days or weeks without access to a lawyer and “we need to re-evaluate whether this is fair or desirable”, he said, noting the need to balance the rights of the accused with the ability of police to do their jobs effectively.