Structural Changes to the Legal Service to Deepen Capabilities and Better Meet Evolving Demands

In an attempt to update legal services to meet evolving demand, the government of Singapore has proposed a number of changes, including:

1.Establishing a separate Judicial Service, overseen by a newly established Judicial Service Commission (JSC) headed by the Chief Justice. Legal Service Officers (LSOs) currently holding judicial posts, such as Assistant Registrars in the Supreme Court and District Judges and Magistrates in the State Courts and Family Courts, will be transferred to the new Judicial Service, as Judicial Service Officers (JSOs).

2. Making consequential changes to the Legal Service, which will be overseen by a reconstituted Legal Service Commission (LSC) headed by the Attorney-General. The Legal Service will comprise LSOs holding other (non-judicial) posts in Government, such as in the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) or Ministries.

These changes aim to put legal services in better stead for the future by allowing for more specialisation and allowing more space for adapting to specific management model moving forward.

Read the full story here

Singapore Ministry of Law offers free mediation services for couples and wedding vendors impacted by COVID-19

The Singapore Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) has introduced a new free mediation programme for parties such as couples and wedding vendors who have been impacted by new COVID-19 restrictions. The MinLaw COVID-19 (Wedding) Mediation Programme first took effect on 8 May 2021 and was introduced in recognition of the fact that many parties had to either cancel, reschedule or downsize events, altering the goods and services provided. However, some have been unable to come to a decision around the provision of the services through direct negotiation.

MinLaw has suggested that by undertaking mediation parties may encounter such benefits as higher rates of settlement, time and cost savings, improved relationship between parties and confidentiality. MinLaw’s programme will require both parties to agree to mediation, with mediation facilitated by a neutral trained professional in a non-adversarial and confidential setting, and via videoconference where applicable. Mediators will facilitate the discussion and help parties work towards a mutually acceptable solution.

Read more about the programme here. 

Singapore to expand permitted categories for third party funding

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has approved changes that will be implemented on the 28th June, which will see the third-party funding (TPF) framework widened to allow for the inclusion of domestic arbitration proceedings, certain proceedings in the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and related mediation proceedings.

The new funding options offer businesses an alternative option to generate funding, as well as helping to increase the competitiveness of Singapore’s international commercial dispute resolution market, benefiting both legal practitioners and buyers of legal services.

With effect from 28 June 2021, the categories of proceedings for which TPF is permitted will be extended to include:

  • Domestic arbitration proceedings;
  • Court proceedings arising from or connected with domestic arbitration proceedings;
  • Proceedings commenced in the SICC, for as long as those proceedings remain in the SICC;
  • Appeal proceedings arising from any decision made in the proceedings in paragraph 3c; and
  • Mediation proceedings relating to any of the proceedings above.

MinLaw has suggested that the reforms will be particularly welcome against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited many claimants access to funds, creating extra financial constraints. The ministry feels that alternative funding options may present a partial solution to these issues.

Read more about the changes here.

Singapore and Uzbekistan sign memorandum of understanding on legal cooperation

On the 22nd of April, Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam SC, and Uzbekistan’s Minister of Justice, Mr Ruslanbek Davletov, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Legal Cooperation. The signing took place at the Tashkent Law Spring, an annual legal forum, held in Uzbekistan.

The MoU provides a framework for cooperation in the following areas:

  • Exchange of information on the promotion of the rule of law
  • Exchange of information on how legislation may be used to safeguard the interests of society and the economy during times of crisis, including during a pandemic
  • Sharing of experience on the provision of legal services
  • Sharing of experience and joint promotion of international commercial dispute resolution services, such as arbitration and mediation, and the joint promotion of the Singapore Convention on Mediation.

Mr Shanmugam said: “We share warm relations with Uzbekistan, and the signing of this MoU will further strengthen our ties. We are committed to further deepening our bilateral relations and cooperation in legal matters, and look forward to working closely with our counterparts in Uzbekistan.”

Find out more about the MoU and the forum. 

Singapore law firms sign anti bullying and harassment pledge with Law Society of Singapore

Twenty-one of Singapore’s largest law firms have signed the Law Society of Singapore’s Law Firm Pledge on Preventing Bullying and Harassment in Singapore’s Legal Profession, in a virtual signing ceremony. Demonstrating a strong commitment to combatting these issues in the profession.

The pledge seeks to:

i) promote and maintain professionalism;
(ii) respect human dignity; and
(iii) respect the inviolability of every employee’s person and privacy.

By signing the Pledge, the signatories committed to implementing the Law Society’s recommendations to maintain a work environment free from the toxic culture of bullying and harassment. These include:
(i) availing or accessing the Law Society’s Workplace Harassment in the Legal Profession: A resource guide for members (June 2020) to all staff;
(ii) informing lawyers and staff of the law firm’s bullying and harassment policy and workplace grievance handling procedures;
(iii) providing training for staff; and
(iv) ensuring appropriate training for senior management and executive law firm leadership.

President of the Law Society, Gregory Vijayendran SC, said: “I know we are all on the same page, every one of us, on zero tolerance towards any and all forms of bullying and harassment in the legal profession. As representatives of the largest employers in the profession, your standing together in solidarity with other large employers to sign the Pledge will give it gravitas. It will send the strongest of signals to the entire legal profession and to other law firms to ensure that law firm staff and colleagues are treated with courtesy, respect, dignity and decency to promote and sustain proper standards of professionalism. By putting pen to paper and purpose to pledge, we are saving the lives of our lawyers and staff from the death of a thousand cuts of bullying and harassment.”

Read the Law Society’s full statement and the pledge here. 

Law Society of Singapore Releases First Report on Gender Diversity in the Profession

The Law Society of Singapore has announced the release of “Levelling the Playing Field”, its first-ever report into gender diversity and inclusion in the Singapore legal profession.

The data for the report has been gathered over the course of the past two years and examines the experience of female practitioners across the profession,

The data involved was collected from over 500 female members of the Singapore legal profession, as well as a series of roundtable sessions with participation from (i) female lawyers across all seniority levels; (ii) managing partners, hiring managers, and recruiting partners (both male and female); and (iii) male lawyers.

The report also includes recommendations from the Women in Practice (WIP) Committee on mentorship and sponsorship; flexible work arrangements; training and awareness of unconscious bias; and addressing sexual harassment and bullying.

WIP Committee Co-Chairperson, Simran Toor, says: “More can be done for women lawyers in Singapore, at all levels of seniority and experience. While the data did not reveal any prevalent problems with harassment or bullying, which is encouraging, it did reveal that unconscious bias remains a deeply rooted issue within the legal practice. There are still strong misperceptions that an equal playing field is available to both genders, that progression is purely a function of merit, and that the larger number of male lawyers at senior levels is due to independent choice-making by female lawyers to leave the profession, rather than any form of unconscious bias or inequality.”

Felicia Tan, Co-Chairperson of the WIP Committee, adds: “There is also a lack of understanding on how diversity in the workplace and embracing flexible working arrangements could translate to commercial benefit; with many still believing that diversity initiatives are rooted only in altruism or inconsistent with the ideals of meritocracy. This pandemic has also shown how flexible working arrangements need not undercut productivity. We hope that the contents of this Report will raise awareness of the issues amongst members of the legal profession so that the Singapore legal profession can attract and retain the best talent, both male and female.”

Read the full report here. 

Singapore Ministry of Law public consultation on Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers proposals

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has launched a public consultation on the proposals to implement the recommendations of the Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers (“CPTL”).

In August 2018, MinLaw announced that it had accepted, in-principle, the CPTL’s recommendations and that implementation of the key changes would take place from the 2023 session of Part B examinations onwards. The CPTL made three key structural recommendations:

a. Uncouple the call to the Bar from the right to practise as a lawyer.
b. Raise the standard and stringency of the Part B examinations.
c. Lengthen the practice training period from six months to one year.

The full CPTL report is available on the Singapore Supreme Court site (PDF).

Full details of the consultation are on the Ministry of Law site.

The public consultation will run from 15 November to 27 December 2019.

Singapore Minister for Law signs legal cooperation MOU with China

During his recent visit to China, Singapore Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam held a bilateral meeting with Chinese Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua. Both sides emphasised the progress in legal cooperation that has been made over the past few years.

In accordance with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s agreement in November 2018  to bring legal cooperation to a new and higher level, the two ministers signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Ministry of Law and the Chinese Ministry of Justice, establishing a Singapore-China Legal Cooperation Council that will convene biennially at the Vice-Minister level, alternating between Singapore and China.

The MOU follows past agreements and programme launches that we have covered in past newsletters.

Read more about the official visit and the agreement.

Law Society of Singapore advice on managing legal and ethical risks in cross-jurisdictional transactions

The Law Society of Singapore has released its opinion on legal and ethical risks in cross-jurisdictional transactions, drawing upon the example of the Panama papers, as well as the 2019 IBA-OECD report. The article also reports on the discussions from the July 2019 Law Society seminar, chaired by the Chairman of the IBA-OECD task force, and concludes with advice to lawyers engaging in international practice.

For the full opinion see the Law Gazette of Singapore site.

Singapore launches ‘China-Ready Programme’ to deepen legal services cooperation with China.

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) in Singapore, has recently launched a new programme targeting the legal industry. The educational programme is designed to help Singaporean legal professionals understand Chinese culture, business environment, legal systems and laws, as well as improving their understanding of Mandarin used in a legal context.  The programme, as well as a series of secondments and networking events, is part of MinLaw’s three-pronged strategy helping to increase opportunities in the legal services market between China and Singapore.

The programme hopes to meet the growing Chinese market for legal services. China has been Singapore’s largest trading partner and Singapore has been China’s largest foreign investor for six consecutive years since 2013. Whilst in 2018, Singapore was the largest foreign investment destination for China along the Belt and Road, capturing close to 23% of total investment flow from China to Belt and Road countries. Whilst the launch is well-timed to meet the signing of the Singapore Convention on mediation.

More information on the programme, which will be developed and delivered by the Han Culture & Education Group (HCEG), which is a subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is available here.