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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Brace for 'recession crimes'

SINGAPORE courts are preparing to cope with more criminal and civil cases during this downturn.

In 1999 and 2002, when the country was battling recessions, the courts' workload hit record levels.

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong expects the numbers to spike again. 'Recession brings many social and other difficulties and problems for people in their daily lives,' he noted yesterday, as he rolled out the workplan for the Subordinate Courts at a seminar.

'We must therefore brace ourselves again for an expected influx of cases this year and while the recession lasts.'

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng had warned last month about a possible rise in crimes such as theft, vice and loan-sharking; separately, Police Commissioner Khoo Boon Hui expressed worry about white-collar crime.

Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull said he has already noticed a 'very significant increase' in cases on the civil front, in the form of companies landing in court for winding-up proceedings and insolvency-related litigation. More are also seeking court protection from creditors, asking for time to restructure operations.

Figures from the Insolvency and Public Trustee's Office have it that 109 firms were forced to liquidate in the last four months of last year, up from 69 in the corresponding period the year before.

Key to the CJ's plans for the Subordinate Courts is reducing the time and manpower needed for criminal processes.

Those who can raise money for bail, for example, will no longer have to wait long to get out of remand. Guidelines say the bail process takes a day, but this has been cut down to an hour or so in practice.

The task of bringing those in remand to court for routine processes such as bail mentions is also being done away with. Video links are now used instead.

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