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Deep-rooted tradition meets new normal

Rizal Faisal

The deep-rooted legal tradition was forced to be taken online in the new normal as the world sees another year of challenges due to COVID-19.

During the inauguration of the Legal Year 2022 which took place at the Supreme Court building at Jalan Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha on March 31, Chief Justice Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong delivered his customary speech, outlining the courts’ key developments and work done in the past year.

The court rooms and registry counters in the High Court and in all district courts have been remodelled by installing plexi-glass shields in order to ensure the health and safety of those attending court, as part of the judicial response to COVID-19 as set out by the Chief Justice.

Legislation amendments were also made in May 2021 to allow for the conduct of hearings online in the Supreme Courts, Intermediate and Subordinate Courts, with the first criminal appeal via Zoom being heard remotely from England and Singapore.

With the further impact of the second wave of COVID-19’s restrictive measures, the judiciary re-implemented their business continuity plans and took to online as much as possible to hear matters.

Reflecting on statistics, the chief justice was especially satisfied with Official Receiver’s Chambers having declared dividends and payment composition in 443 cases totalling to BND19,918,901.46, with a total of 146 rescission orders granted throughout 2021, in spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Special Adviser to His Majesty and Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Bakti Diraja Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Isa bin Pehin Datu Perdana Manteri Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Ibrahim, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Mokti bin Haji Mohd Daud and court officials at the inauguration of the Legal Year 2022 that which place at the Supreme Court building at Jalan Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha. PHOTOS: MUIZ MATDANI
Chief Justice Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong delivers his address
ABOVE & BELOW: Attorney General Haji Ahmad bin Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Bakti Diraja Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Isa delivers his remarks; and Brunei Darussalam Law Society of Brunei Darussalam President Haji Mansur bin Dato Paduka Dr Haji Latif delivering his inaugural speech

“In the international sphere, we have continued to engage actively and advanced judicial cooperation with our counterparts overseas,” Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong added.

Amongst others, the judicial cooperation was demonstrated in their most recent collaboration last February with the British High Commission in Brunei Darussalam organising a virtual seminar series delivered by the UK Slynn Foundation.

The seminar also saw the Brunei judiciary’s counterparts delivering seminars on judgement writing, the legal profession and the Sentencing Council of England. The judiciary outreach has also been broadened by making the permanent presence of an Intermediate Court Judge and a Senior Magistrate to preside over cases in the Tutong District Court so as to ensure access to justice spans across the country.

In addition, the chief justice announced the Pupillage Framework being in its final stages of drafting.

“Pupillage is the gateway to the legal profession and we must ensure the professional competence of our aspiring lawyers,” he said.

The chief justice called upon the State Judiciary Department and the courts to collaborate with interested developers to provide a system that transcribes speech into text in real time for use in court in the continuous leverage on technology in improving the administration of justice and deliver an effective and efficient justice system.

He also revisited his encouragement from the Legal Year 2021 opening for the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) and the Law Society of Brunei Darussalam to consider working together to prepare a Code of Practice for the conduct of criminal proceedings by the Prosecution and the Defence to ensure due process and fair outcomes.

The chief justice commended the pro bono work done in the past year undertaken by the Law Society and the society’s commitment to ensuring that justice remains accessible to all.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Haji Ahmad bin Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Bakti Diraja Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Isa in his speech gave insights into his Chamber’s undertakings.

“The AGC has embarked on various initiatives designed to develop and bring out the best of its work force,” he began. According to the Attorney General, 15 AGC officers have been promoted to senior positions across a variety of roles marking a significant milestone in career development and succession planning within the AGC.

He assured that the AGC will continue to prioritise career development with a competency framework which is now in place and is one of two strategic focus areas in their three-year strategic plan, with the other focussed on adoption of legal technology. He also hoped for it to be a source of motivation and positivity for officers of his Chambers.

As it stands proof that technology is the way forward, the attorney general emphasised that his Chamber’s adoption of technology primarily involves the Electronic Document and Case Management System (EDMS) and the Legislative Electronic Drafting and Online (LEDO) System.

He said that the EDMS will digitise the current manual processes of all AGC divisions and implement paperless workflow management that allows transparency and accessibility.

“(With) talks between AGC and the vendor… the LEDO will allow legislative drafting, revision of laws and publication processes to be in one single system,” he added.

The attorney general also spoke on other developments in its collaboration efforts with other ministries and departments such as introducing major amendments to the Constitution of Brunei Darussalam, the Succession and Regency Proclamation, 1959; the Old Age and Disability Pensions Act and its regulations and the Minor Offences Act as well as introducing new laws such as the International Finance Corporations Order, 2021 and the Animal (Diseases and Quarantine) Order, 2021. He said an amendment made to the Penal Code (Amendment) Order, 2021 strengthening the laws against cases affecting key services is notably in the public interest in light of the increasing numbers of cable theft offences in previous years.

The AGC is also working with the Prime Minister’s Office in developing a draft legislation database (DLD), which is a platform to share updates of the status of drafts legislations with the instructing ministries and government departments, hoping that it will assist in making necessary planning.

The AGC provides training to law enforcement agencies on areas of legal matters ranging from enforcement powers within the country’s waters and powers of investigations to investigation process and court procedures.

“Discussions are underway between the judiciary, AGC and the Law Society to develop pupillage framework to improve the standard and quality of pupillage training,” the attorney general concluded.

In his inaugural speech, Law Society of Brunei Darussalam President Haji Mansur bin Dato Paduka Dr Haji Latif highlighted the Legal Professional Indemnity Insurance Rules and the Intestate Successions Act proposals.

He said the Legal Profession Rules, expected to be in effect this year, offer a safeguard for both client and practitioner that as all practitioners in a law firm are requried to have an insurance policy in place and in turn strengthens the trust between the public and the practitioners.

Meanwhile, the Intestate Succession Act, which will only apply to the estates of non-Muslims, also expected to take effect this year, will remedy the uncertainty in how property is being distributed in such cases and give clarity.

Haji Mansur also sought to invite in-house counsel from government departments and government linked companies to join the Law Society to expand the community and be able to organise more collaborative works.

In addition, the president of the Law Society announced the resumed work of the Legal Advice Clinic, shifted online, enabling the public to apply for legal aid through its website.

Before concluding their addresses to attendees, the chief justice, attorney general and president of the Law Society commended members of their organisations for the efforts in improving the justice system and the various appointments among the judicial officers.

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