Chief Justice Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong detailed the judiciary’s response to the pandemic and how “the judiciary has the responsibility to remain open and functional even during times of crisis”.
As far as tradition goes to mark the opening of the Legal Year 2021, the Chief Justice welcomed guests and addressed the legal fraternity at the Supreme Court of Brunei Darussalam.
He stated that the main priority has been to ensure the health and safety of its personnel and the public, while minimising disruption to services.
Despite ceasing some physical operations temporarily in the first half of 2020 due to COVID-19, the Chief Justice said, “With the help of technology, the courts were still deemed ‘open’ for filing, issuing and returning of processes and for making orders via our e-filing system.”
The Chief Justice added that the use of Microsoft Teams and Zoom to conduct remote hearings and video conferencing allowed for the court’s continued functioning. He highlighted a case in October 2020 where Judicial Commissioner Justice Kannan Ramesh in Singapore conducted a High Court hearing virtually with witnesses in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and counsel in Brunei Darussalam.
The Chief Justice stated that in ensuring timeliness and efficiency in delivering justice, the Judiciary focussed on tackling issues relating to the backlog of cases and delays in disposing of cases.
The Chief Justice announced various initiatives for 2021, which included the formation of a committee to review pupilage training.
The committee will be chaired by the Chief Registrar and comprise of members from the Attorney General’s Chambers and Law Society to develop a comprehensive framework for the training of pupils.
He said, “It is imperative that the standards and quality of training for those who wish to qualify to the bar is regulated” and added that “improving the standard of pupilage will ensure that young lawyers will be better equipped to meet the multifaceted challenges of the legal profession”.
He commended senior members of the bar for taking on pro bono cases for accused persons who cannot afford to pay for legal services and encouraged young lawyers to volunteer their services to serve the community.
The Chief Justice ended his speech by urging the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Law Society to work together with the Judiciary to prepare a Code of Practice for the Conduct of Criminal Proceedings by the Prosecution in order to ensure due process and fair outcomes in the criminal justice process.
It was followed by speeches from Attorney General Haji Ahmad bin Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Bakti Diraja Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Isa and Law Society President Pengiran Izad Ryan bin Pengiran Laila Kanun Diraja Pengiran Haji Bahrin.