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Supreme Court, Bandar Seri Begawan, 10 January 2019
The Honourable Chief Justice Dato Paduka Steven Chong officiated the Opening of Legal Year 2019 today with the inspection of the Guard of Honour comprising of Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) personnel. After the Guard of Honour, the Honourable Chief Justice delivered his speech to mark the opening of the Legal Year. This was followed by speeches by the Attorney General, Yang Berhormat Dato Paduka Haji Hairol Arni bin Haji Abdul Majid and the President of the Law Society, On Hung Zheng.
The Opening of Legal Year is an annual gathering held at the Supreme Court that brings together all members of Brunei Darussalam's legal community. In his inaugural speech, the Honourable Chief Justice announced that the Judiciary will undertake reforms to enhance the quality of the justice delivery system. He outlined that timeliness will be the court's priority and that efficiency must become the norm in the administration of the courts. The Chief Justice further explained that a target has been set for the delivery of judgments by Judges, Magistrates and Registrars of one month in general and not exceeding 3 months in complex cases after the close of submissions.
The Chief Justice further reiterated that in pursuit of efficiency, the Judiciary must find the right balance to maintain public trust and confidence in the administration of justice and reminded that Judges should not delay justice, as the cost to defendants or litigants may result in the loss of their liberty or property. Conversely, he also stressed that no one should leave the court with the grievance of having been deprived of a full and fair hearing because the Judge was impatient.
The Chief Justice also touched on various initiatives implemented by the Judiciary. Firstly, mediation as a non-confrontational and more harmonious way of resolving disputes continues to be offered as an alternative dispute mechanism by the courts. As of August 2018, all litigants are offered the opportunity of mediation before court accredited mediators. The Chief Justice went on to explain that mediation is more cost-effective than most other modes of dispute resolution as it allows parties themselves to directly participate in the resolution of their disputes and determine its outcome. It also achieves quicker closure with reduced professional charges and costs. To date, in the High Court eleven (11) cases have been identified for mediation and one (1) out of three (3) cases mediated has been successful. In the Intermediate Court seven cases (7) have been identified for mediation and two (2) out of four (4) cases have been successfully mediated.
Secondly, the Chief Justice announced that the Judiciary has embarked on a project to produce a Bench Book containing guideline cases on a range of offences to provide assistance to Judges and Magistrates in discharging their sentencing function. The Chief Justice stated that the Bench Book would cover offences under the Penal Code, Misuse of Drugs Act, Road Traffic Act, Immigration Act, Income Tax Act and Customs and Excise Orders. He expressed his confidence that there will be a greater level of consistency and predictability in sentences that will be of benefit to Judges, Magistrates, Prosecutors and Defence Counsel.
Thirdly, the Chief Justice spoke about the Judiciary website and explained that it will be reviewed regularly so as to provide a useful platform for information on court matters and for research. He further stated that the Judiciary website has recently been enhanced and offers e-Practice Directions, e-Judgments from 1987 to 2018 and e-Publications.
Lastly, the Chief Justice commended the Law Society for its effort in expanding pro bono services to enhance access to justice. He encouraged all members of the Bar to volunteer their services and to use their training to serve the disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the community in the public interest.
The Opening of Legal Year was also attended by Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Bakti Diraja Dato Laila Utama Haji Awang Isa, Special Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan and Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Mokti bin Haji Mohd Daud, Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, The Honourable Chief Syarie Judge, Honourable Justices and Judges of the Civil and Syariah Courts, State Dignitaries, Members of the Legislative Council, Ambassadors and High Commissioners, Senior Government Officials, members of the Judiciary from the Civil and Syariah Courts, members of the legal profession, members of various government enforcement agencies and students from Sultan Sharif Ali Islamic University
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