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Parliament in brief: 3 things you should know

SINGAPORE — On Tuesday (Oct 2), Members of Parliament (MPs) raised questions on a range of issues including the buying and selling of public housing units under the Ethnic Integration Policy, as well as airline pilots consuming alcohol and/or drugs before flying.

SINGAPORE — On Tuesday (Oct 2), Members of Parliament (MPs) raised questions on a range of issues including the buying and selling of public housing units under the Ethnic Integration Policy, as well as airline pilots consuming alcohol and/or drugs before flying.

Four bills were also passed in Parliament, including amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act. Here are some highlights:

CAAS reviewing regulations after case of SIA pilot who failed alcohol test

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is reviewing regulations and procedures to “more strongly deter” pilots from operating aircraft while intoxicated, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min.

Last month, a Singapore Airlines (SIA) pilot was caught in Australia for failing an alcohol test before flying. The pilot has been suspended and is being investigated by CAAS.

The authorities have not detected any duty airline pilots consuming alcohol or drugs before boarding aircraft in Singapore, said Dr Lam, responding to a question from Mr Ang Wei Neng, MP for Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC), who asked if any such case has been detected in the past decade.

The CAAS has performed more than 900 ramp inspections since 2013 and found no sign of pilot intoxication. The CAAS does not conduct random blood sampling, said Dr Lam.

The authority requires Singapore carriers to ensure that their pilots do not consume any alcohol at least eight hours before flight, wherever they operate in the world.

“In addition, Singapore has strict rules for pilots who fly out of our airports, regardless of whether they are operating Singapore- or foreign-registered aircraft,” Dr Lam said.

Every pilot is responsible for ensuring that he or she does not operate a flight while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Doing so is an offence under the Air Navigation Order, and carries a maximum penalty of S$100,000 and a jail term of up to five years.

More appeals to HDB to waive ethnic integration policy

Between 2015 and 2017, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) received 1,600 appeals by homeowners to waive the ethnic integration policy (EIP), said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday.

He was responding to Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh, who asked if there were statistics or feedback from minority races who face difficulties in selling their HDB flats because of the policy.

There are no plans for the HDB to buy back flats from homeowners who claim they are unable to sell their units due to the EIP, Mr Wong said in response to a supplementary question from Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan.

The HDB will help by granting homeowners an extension of time. It will also put up data to help “facilitate the matching of demand and supply in the market,” added Mr Wong.

The EIP was introduced in 1989 to ensure a balanced mix of ethnic groups living in HDB estates, to promote racial harmony and strengthen social cohesion. It applies to the sale and purchase of all new and resale HDB flats, and is implemented for all ethnic groups.

The number of appeals in the last three years is higher than the period from 2013 to 2015, when roughly 1,200 appeals were received, based on statistics previously put out by the ministry.

Four in five appeals were not successful.

"For most of these unsuccessful cases, the applicants did not cite any reasons for their appeals, hence there was no basis to consider their requests," the ministry had said in a written parliamentary reply in 2016.

Courts given more power to deal with vexatious litigants

The courts will have greater powers to control vexatious conduct in civil lawsuits, after amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (SCJA) were passed in Parliament.

Previously, it was the Attorney-General who could apply to the High Court to curb the conduct of litigants who habitually and persistently instituted legal proceedings without reasonable grounds. The High Court may then order that the party may not institute or continue legal proceedings without the court’s permission.

With the amendments, which draw from the United Kingdom and Canada, the High Court or Court of Appeal can now make three types of civil restraint orders according to the degree of vexatious conduct.

They are:

  1. Limited civil restraint order. This applies to parties who have made two or more applications that are “totally without merit”.

  2. Extended civil restraint order. This applies to parties who have persistently started actions or made applications that are totally without merit.

  3. General civil restraint order. This applies to parties where an extended civil restraint order is not sufficient or appropriate. They will be banned from commencing action or making any application in any court specified in the order, without the court’s leave for up to two years.

The High Court or Court of Appeal may make these orders on its own motion, or on applications by a party or the Attorney-General.

Responding to questions from Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng and Bukit Batok constituency MP Murali Pillai, who asked about the scope of the orders, Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said that general civil restraint orders can be extended, but for a maximum of two years.

Cases of vexatious conduct have been “far and few between”, he added — only four orders were made last year, and no orders have been made under the SCJA so far this year.

Parties may appeal against the restraint order with leave of the High Court or the Court of Appeal.

Other changes to the Act include allowing the courts to conduct hearings electronically, such as via “live” video or television link. This could previously be done only for witnesses giving evidence in civil proceedings.

The courts can now also impose late filing fees for cases when legal proceedings are delayed because parties and their lawyers file their documents late.

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