Jurisdiction - Singapore
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Singapore – Proposal to update Evidence Act Issued. Hearsay, Computer Evidence and In-House Counsel Privilege Effected.

10 October, 2011

The Evidence Act (“EA”) provides the legislative basis for Singapore’s law of evidence. The Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) is considering the following amendments to the EA as set out in the Evidence (Amendment) Bill (“Draft Bill”). 
Legal Professional Privilege for In-House Counsel 
The benefit of legal professional privilege will be extended to include in-house counsel or persons employed to undertake the provision of legal advice or assistance in connection with the application of the law or any form of resolution of legal disputes. Legal Service Officers posted to a Government department, ministry or statutory body are also included. References to “advocates and solicitors” in the EA will be deemed to include legal officers from the Attorney General’s Chambers. 
Opinion Evidence 
The scope of admissible evidence will be broadened by giving judges more discretion to accord proper weight to expert opinion. The test of assistance and not necessity forms the main basis of admissibility of expert evidence. To guard against expert opinion of marginal use, the court must consider such evidence to be likely to be of substantial assistance. 
The general phrase “scientific, technical or other specialised knowledge” will broaden the types of admissible evidence from the current five areas of specialised knowledge, namely “foreign law, science or art, handwriting or finger impressions”. Expert opinion on matters of common knowledge will be relevant where the new criteria of admissibility are met. The court may be given the discretion to exclude otherwise admissible expert opinion evidence if it is unfairly prejudicial, misleading or confusing, or will lead to an undue waste of judicial time.
Computer Output 
The EA provisions introduced in 1996 to facilitate the use of information technology and the admissibility of electronic evidence has ironically made it difficult in practice to admit electronic evidence. First, although express agreement between the parties represent the most  cost-effective mode for admission of such evidence, in reality no party against whom such evidence is to be adduced will provide such consent.  
Second, to support the admission of such evidence two certificates must be produced, (1) that the process must be certified to be an approved process and (2) that the evidence must be certified to be obtained from the approved process. Consequently only parties with the resources can afford the costly audit processes.
Third, the proponent of such evidence must prove the proper operation of the computer and accuracy of the computer printout. Besides the difficulty of application, it is often difficult to identify or find a qualified party to make the legal declarations.
Fundamental reform will allow electronic evidence to be admitted under the same rules as non-electronic evidence by removing the requirements for the admissibility of computer output. Computer-specific provisions and definitions will be repealed. It is also recommended that evidentiary presumptions be introduced  to allow certain classes of reliable electronic records which are unlikely to be tampered with, such as evidence stored by a neutral third party.
The legal framework for hearsay evidence will be reformed in three aspects. First, the recognised statutory exceptions under the EA will be broadened to confer greater discretion to the courts to admit evidence. The hearsay exceptions under the EA will no longer be subject to the provisos that the maker of such statement is unavailable to give evidence, or that his attendance cannot be procured without unreasonable delay or expense. These provisos will constitute standalone exceptions to hearsay. A new exception will be introduced where parties to the proceedings can agree to the admission of the hearsay evidence in question. To prevent abuse of these broadened hearsay exceptions, two measures are proposed. 
(1) Regardless of the statutory exceptions on hearsay evidence in the Draft Bill, the courts retain a residual discretion to exclude hearsay evidence whose admission would not be in the interests of justice.  
(2) Except where hearsay evidence is admitted by parties’ agreement, a party seeking to rely on hearsay evidence is required to give notice to the other parties by providing a brief description of the hearsay evidence in question, and identifying the statutory exception to be relied on.
This allows adversely affected parties to make timely objections to the use of such evidence. Details of these notice requirements will be set out in subsidiary legislation relating to the Criminal Procedure Code (“CPC” in the context of criminal proceedings) and the Rules of Court (in relation to civil proceedings). 
Second, the “business statement” exception will be broadened by removing existing limitations to allow a court the discretion to admit all business records produced in the ordinary course of business, including Government records, which appear prima facie authentic. However it remains open to the party against whom such evidence is raised to challenge the weight which should be attributed to such evidence. 
Furthermore, the court’s discretion to not admit such hearsay evidence would also apply to business statements. 
Third, the hearsay exceptions for civil and criminal proceedings will be reconciled by housing the exceptions for both proceedings under the EA. The current Draft Bill contains only the relevant proposed amendments to the EA. Consequential amendments will also subsequently have to be made to the CPC.
Interested parties may send their feedback to MinLaw by 30 October 2011.
For further information, please contact:
Bryan Tan, Keystone Law Coporation

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