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New norms in judiciary due to pandemic: Chief Justice

Fadley Faisal

The challenges posed by the second and third COVID-19 waves have required for the adaptation and re-examination of how justice is administered and delivered.

This was said by Chief Justice Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong at the inauguration of the Legal Year 2022 at the Supreme Court building at Jalan Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha yesterday.

The chief justice attributed technology in aiding the judiciary keep courts and tribunals running at all levels by moving the proceedings online.

He also referenced statistics from the past year, which reflect the justice system’s best efforts in keeping the operations running despite the pandemic.

“From January to December 2021, the clearance rate for civil suits in the High Court was 64 per cent, while for civil suits in the Magistrate’s Court, it was 70 per cent,” he said. “In the Intermediate Court, criminal trials had a clearance rate of 63 per cent, and for commercial and civil matters, it was 65 per cent and 77 per cent respectively.”

Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong added that 66 per cent of judgements at all levels of court were delivered within one to three months.

On the advancement of mediation, the chief justice highlighted the introduction of Practice Direction No 1 of 2021 on the use of alternative dispute resolution for matters involving family law disputes.

The Legal Year 2022 in progress. PHOTO: SUPREME COURT OF BRUNEI DARUSSALAM

The Practice Direction, which took effect in December 2021, requires that as part of the divorce proceedings, couples with at least one child below 18 years old must undergo mandatory court annexed mediation.

He expressed hopes that “mediation will better assist families in reducing the emotional burden, time and cost of resolving their disputes”.

In January 2022, Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong said one Intermediate Court judge and one senior magistrate are now stationed full-time at the Tutong District Court, to provide access to justice across the country, to offer court users and the community in Tutong District access to judicial services, and to ensure cases can also be dealt with more expeditiously.

The chief justice highlighted criminal and civil cases presided over the Court of Appeal in Brunei and by the High Court judge in Australia via video conferencing, where relevant parties attended remotely from Brunei as well as various parts of the world, such as Canada, India, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

The judiciary’s commitment, he said, is to ensure that “technology enables safe and effective access to justice”, and to capitalise on the “greater use of technology to administer justice efficiently”.

Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong also extended his appreciation to the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC)and the Bar at yesterday’s event for their support for the judiciary with the objective of ensuring that “our justice system remains open and functional during these (pandemic) times” and how “court users and stakeholders have adapted well to the transition”.

The opening of the legal year also saw speeches from Attorney General Haji Ahmad bin Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Bakti Diraja Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Isa and Law Society President Haji Mansur bin Dato Paduka Dr Haji Latif.

Meanwhile, Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Bakti Diraja Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Isa bin Pehin Datu Perdana Manteri Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Ibrahim, Special Adviser to His Majesty and Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Mokti bin Haji Mohd Daud attended the event in person.

The Legal Year 2022 is comparatively more scaled-down due to the current COVID-19 situation in the Sultanate, attended physically only by members of the judiciary and invited guests.

Members of the AGC and the Law Society were present virtually alone with other guests, such as the Chief Syar’ie Judge, judges from the Syariah Courts, ambassadors and high commissioners, the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, senior government officials, and representatives from enforcement agencies.

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