Recent effects of the Plain Laws Understandable by Singaporeans (PLUS) initiative

By Kristen Palmer


https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/singapore-statute-book-laws-simpler-language-universal-revision-2388911


Background of the PLUS initiative


The Legislation Division of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) initiated the Plain Laws Understandable by Singaporeans (PLUS) project in 2013, aiming to “improve and modernise the Singapore statute book (online as well as hardcopy) in terms of its content and its design.” [1] The project initially began in the form of an online public survey to determine how the readability of Singapore’s laws could be improved to make Singapore’s laws more understandable and accessible to the public.


Latest revisions informed by PLUS


Singapore’s Acts and subsidiary legislation are revised from time to time by the Law Revision Commission (LRC), under the Revised Edition of the Laws Act. The latest revision, contained in the 2020 Revised Edition of Acts, came into operation on 31 December 2021. In the 2020 Revised Edition of Acts, 510 Acts of Parliament, including the Penal Code and the Trustees Act, have been updated with more modern language and clearer expressions. [2] These updates were informed by the PLUS initiative and do not change the meaning of the Acts. For instance, “notwithstanding” was replaced with “despite” and “for the avoidance of doubt” was replaced with “to avoid doubt”. The language has also been updated to be more precise, with words like “shall” being changed to “must”. Gender-specific terms like “chairman” have also been replaced with gender-neutral terms like “chairperson” to reflect changing social norms. [3]


Lengthy clauses have also been split into smaller sub-clauses. Further stylistic changes include replacing Roman numbers with Arabic numerals. Other changes include having a more comprehensive legislative history at the end of each Act, with information on its various amendments, revised editions and predecessor Acts.


Balancing the need to preserve Singapore’s legal heritage and to modernise


A further consideration of the revision team was that a balance needed to be struck between the modernisation of the revised Acts and the preservation of Singapore’s legal heritage. The revision team endeavoured to preserve the historical language of certain laws to conserve “the 'voice' of past legislation”, reminiscent of British, Indian and Malaysian laws, and those enacted by the Straits Settlements government. [4]





References:

[1] ‘Plain Laws Understandable By Singaporeans’ (Attorney-General's Chambers) <https://www.agc.gov.sg/our-roles/drafter-of-laws/plain-laws-understandable-by-singaporeans> accessed 31 Dec 2021

[2] ‘Revised Editions of Legislation’ (Attorney-General's Chambers) <https://www.agc.gov.sg/our-roles/drafter-of-laws/legislation-and-revisions> accessed 31 Dec 2021

[3] Dominic Low, ‘Over 500 Singapore laws to be made easier to read’ (The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2021) <https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/over-500-singapore-laws-to-be-made-easier-to-read> accessed 31 Dec 2021

[4] Ibid.