The Johore Bar Committee recently had a meeting with the Industrial Court at Johor Bahru. The meeting was attended by the Industrial Court Judge and the Assistant Registrar. The meeting was held to discuss issues pertaining to practice at the Industrial Court. Amongst the issues discussed were:
- Fixing of dates – the Court said that hearing dates will now be given on the second case management upon close of pleadings and cases are expected to be completed within 10-12 months. The Committee has stated that whilst faster case disposals are necessary nevertheless lawyer’s free dates must be taken into account when fixing the dates. The Court has assured us that lawyer’s free dates will indeed be taken into account; but at the same time asked for our assistance to ensure that the free dates are not too far off from the current date.
- Postponements – the Court has requested that applications for postponement should not be made too close to the hearings. Such applications, if any, should be made early (save for unavoidable instances) and will be considered on its merits. Early application is necessary so that if the postponement is allowed the Court would be able to fix another hearing on the same day.
- Case management directions – the Court expressed concern about frequent instances of parties not complying with directions and dateline. This has hampered conduct of hearings. The Committee has stated that whilst lawyers are indeed expected to comply with the directions nevertheless at times the non-compliance could be due to reasons beyond the control of the parties and as such the Court should continue to be flexible and take into account the reasons before deciding on the next course of action when there is a non-compliance.
- Submissions – the Court said that whilst parties will continue to be given the usual time to file written submissions; to expedite disposals – and if the parties agree – the Court is prepared to proceed by way of oral submissions with the aid of skeletal written submissions. Members may indicate their preference at the conclusion of the trial.
- Evidence – the Court has requested lawyers to file and exchange witness statements for all witnesses save for subpoenaed witnesses or when statements could not be prepared due to good reasons. The timely filing and exchange of the statements will ensure that parties are ready to proceed at the hearing without delay. All the witnesses are also expected to be present in Court and to be available to give evidence. The Court also expressed concern that quite frequently in re-examination there is a tendency to repeat the examination in chief, wholesome re-introduction of the evidence and/or fresh evidence being introduced. Lawyers have been requested to be familiar with the rules of examination of witnesses particularly on re-examination.
- Mediation – the Court has assured the Committee that mediation will be carried out only with the parties’ consent and that parties will not be forced to settle. As there is only 1 Judge, mediation, if agreed to, will be done before the Assistant Registrar. In that way, there will be no risk of appearance as if the Judge having prejudged the issues when the hearing takes place upon failure of mediation. Where necessary the Judge may also discuss with the lawyers on the issues in order to narrow down the issues but this will not amount to mediation and will be done without touching the merits of the case.
- E-filing – the e-filing facility is available at the Industrial Court but unfortunately is not taken up by lawyers. The Court has urged lawyers to make use of the facility as it saves time and costs for the parties. Lawyers who are keen on e-filing are requested to liaise with the registry for the necessary registration before filing the pleadings.
- Additional Court – the Committee has requested for a second Court to be made available in Johor Bahru. This will help to reduce the number of cases for hearing and enable early hearing dates to be given. A second Court/Judge will also assist mediation by enabling mediations to be carried out before a Judge who will not be hearing the trial and so parties will be more forthcoming in the discussions at the mediation.