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Lawyers Urged To Use More Videoconferencing in View of SARS - April 10, 2003

Lawyers are now encouraged to opt for more videoconferencing with the courts, instead of face-to-face sessions especially in simpler cases.

In the light of the SARS scare, this is just one of a slew of precautionary measures taken by the courts.

Since the outbreak of the deadly virus, many industries have been taking precautionary measures to contain the problem.

The legal fraternity is no exception.

The Law Society has urged its members to “use the videophone facilities for Duty Registrar matters as far as possible instead of physically attending court” which the courts say should minimize “person-to-person contact”.

The Supreme Court says it has noticed an increase in the number of lawyers using such facilities.

Videoconferencing is used to handle simple matters like applications and pre-trial conferences.

The Subordinate Courts is also encouraging such virtual hearings, especially in civil cases.

While almost all the large and medium-sized firms—about 100 in all—have such facilities, many small firms do not.

However, the courts say they will not be disadvantaged as smaller firms can easily borrow the facilities at other firms.

And this is not all.

Thian Yee Sze, Assistant Registrar, Supreme Court, said: “Now, we are cleaning our premises at least 3 times a day, disinfecting many of the common areas, including doorknobs and toilets. We have also issued face masks to all our staff. Another precautionary measure is that if any lawyer, party or witness shows signs of SARS or are unwell, the Court will adjourn the hearing by 6 weeks or more.”

The Subordinate Courts, which sees the majority of cases, is also working with police, prisons and frontline staff to separate accused persons displaying SARS symptoms.

It has also closed the children's rooms in the Subordinate, Family and Juvenile Courts.

While some lawyers said such measures were not really necessary, most felt it was better to err on the side of caution and thought the moves prudent.

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