The Electronic Filing System (“EFS”) was implemented in the Supreme Court and the Subordinate Courts on 1 March 2000. All writs of summons filed on or after this date will have to be filed electronically.
Thereafter the system was extended to other court documents in several phases. As at the time of writing, EFS has been extended to Originating Summonses, Taxation Matters, Interpleader Summonses, Appeals from the Subordinate Courts to the High Court, Appeals to the Court of Appeal, Petitions for Admission of Advocates & Solicitors, Winding Up Proceedings, Admiralty Actions, Originating Motions, Originating Petitions, Petitions of Course, Proceedings under the Bankruptcy Act, Non-Contentious Probate Proceedings filed in the High Court and Lodgments of Power of Attorney[ref]On 15th December 2003, Non-Contentious Probate Proceedings filed in the Subordinate Courts and Matters relating to the Family Court are targeted to be filed using EFS.[/ref]. Soon all documents that are to be filed with the courts have to be electronically filed.
When it was first implemented, EFS was considered to be “state of the art” and has won the prestigious National InfoComm Award for innovative use of technology in the Supreme Court in 2002. However after three years of use, it is timely to re-examine the experience of users and consider improvements to the System. Thus in April 2003, the Honourable the Chief Justice appointed an EFS Review Committee to conduct a thorough review of the EFS to ensure the continuing relevance of EFS as technology improves and the legal profession adapts.
This Review Committee comprised of members of the Judiciary and the legal profession. An internal report with a list of recommendations was submitted to the Chief Justice in June 2003. After the recommendations were accepted by the Chief Justice, an Implementation Committee was set-up to oversee the implementation of these recommendations. A public report was published on the 29th of September 2003[ref]This report titled “Report of the Review of the Electronic Filing System” can be found on the Singapore Academy of Law Website at http://www.sal.org.sg [/ref].
The Review Committee proposals were two-pronged: firstly to address technical, design and costs issues that can be resolved in the short to medium term; and secondly to develop a new and better version of EFS in the longer term.
Changes on 15th October 2003
The recommendations on the costs issue were implemented on 15 October 2003 with amendments to the Rules of Court[ref]Rules of Court (Amendment No.3) Rules 2003 (S470/2003)[/ref] and the issue of Practice Directions[ref]Supreme Court Practice Directions No.6 of 2003 and Subordinate Courts Practice Directions No.4 of 2003
[/ref]. The changes are:-
- A reduction in all EFS fees by 20% except for the fees for electronic service of documents, where a different fees structure has been implemented. The various EFS fees can be found in Appendix B to the Rules of Court (as amended on 15 October 2003). The document processing fee has been reduce from S$5.00 to S$4.00 per document and the transmission fee reduced from S$1.00 per page to S$0.80 per page.
- The 15% surcharge imposed for service bureau filings has been removed and the manual handling fee at the service bureau was reduced from S$20.00 to S$13.50. For documents of more than 200 pages, an additional manual handling fee of 5 cents per page from the 201st page is levied.
- Penalty charges for rejected documents filed through EFS are waived where the rejection is due to the law firm selecting the wrong document type for the document filed or for data entry errors in the fields required by EFS. However, if the rejection is due to other types of errors (eg scanning dark coloured papers or where the ink is light coloured such that the electronic document becomes unreadable), the penalty charge is capped at S$25.00.
- The amount of disbursement allowed in taxation of bills for preparation and filing of electronic documents is reduced from S$0.50 per page to S$0.40 per page.
- The cost of serving documents through EFS has been changed from a “per page” with no fee cap to one where there is a cap. Where the document to be served using EFS is 500 pages or less the cost is at S$0.50 per page plus S$5.00, up to a maximum of S$10.00. Where the document is more than 500 pages, the charge is at S$20.00 per document.
- Trial bundles are no longer required to be filed through EFS. Instead, paper copies are required to be filed at the Registry counter together with an electronic copy of the trial bundles burnt onto a CD-ROM in pdf format. The pdf format must comply with the guidelines on the scanning resolution of the electronic documents[ref]The guidelines can be found on the EFS Website at http://www.efs.com.sg[/ref]. Both the paper copies and the electronic copies on the CD-ROM have to be tendered to the Registry at least five days before trial.
The effect of these changes is an immediate reduction in the costs involved in using EFS to file documents, whether through a computer system in the law firm’s office or through the service bureau. Further, the difficulties with electronically filing the voluminous trial bundles have been eliminated.
Presently, a technical audit is being carried out to improve the performance, stability and usability of EFS. The filing process is also being examined to improve and simplify the filing of documents using EFS. Once these exercises are completed, changes are expected to be made to the front-end application at law firms that should make filing of documents more intuitive and user-friendly. In the long term, there are plans to develop EFS 2.0, to review the civil procedural rules to make more efficient use of electronic filing and to implement an e-litigation system.
As the law firms and the judiciary capitalise on the experience of the past three years and the experience of other government agencies and other professionals, both in Singapore and in other countries; and utilising the improvements in technology, the Electronic Filing System may soon realise its fullest potential as a litigation system that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of litigation practice in Singapore.