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Legal advice for the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020

The Singapore government’s introduction of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 has been a short-term refuge from contractual obligations. Legal advisers offer tips on how to understand the Act

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Vicki Heng Law Corporation's director, Kelvin Tan: addressing misconceptions about how the Act operates. Credit: A Square Visual Studio

SINGAPORE - The Singapore government's introduction of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 has been a short-term refuge from contractual obligations for distressed enterprises and individuals.

At the recent SACEOS Virtual C2C (Click 2 Connect) Series, an online seminar-cum-clinic styled platform dedicated to addressing pain-points and imparting solutions to overcome these difficulties, experts were invited the share the legal ramifications of this Act, its impact on contractual obligations. The webinar was followed by a private consultation with legal professionals.

Vicki Heng Law Corporation is SACEOS' Virtual C2C partner. Some of the topics discussed included the following:

•    the Act is intended to provide temporary and targeted relief to businesses and individuals who are unable to perform their contractual obligations as a result of the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak affecting Singapore. It seeks to provide temporary cash-flow relief for such businesses and individuals who may otherwise have to pay damages or risk having their deposits or assets forfeited.

•    there are temporary alternative arrangements which may be prescribed for the conduct of meetings where the law otherwise requires in-person meetings

•    the Act imposes a duty on an owner of property benefitting from any property tax rebate, to transfer that benefit to its tenants. The tenants also have a right to take action against the owner for failing to do so

•    temporary measures have been instituted to allow court proceedings and actions (including before the Syrariah Court) to be conducted using remote communication technology such as video-conference links, as well as live audio links in certain limited circumstances

•    the Act also provides legal powers to the Minister for Health to impose a control order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and enforcement powers under the same.

Mr Kelvin Tan, director, Vicki Heng Law Corporation, said that meeting planners need to be aware that the Act only provides relief from action being taken against them for a temporary duration. He said: "It does not mean that you can avoid liability altogether. Secondly, the relief is not automatic and must be specifically applied for and will only be granted if the requirements are met, that is, that the inability to perform is directly attributable to the COVID-19 situation."

He said this was important to understand because there have been some misconceptions about how the Act operates and what it seeks to do.

He added: "Having been involved with events organisations for several years now, we have developed an understanding for their business and in this particular situation, there are various areas that we can offer assistance with.

"First, for companies that are facing difficulties with current ongoing contracts, we can review those contracts and advise on the best way out or forward for them. There is also a lot of uncertainty for example, if force majeure clauses may apply in the present situation and so again, that is something that we can review and advise on.

"Secondly, going forward, we would be able to assist and advice companies as to whether their existing standard form contracts might need to be reviewed or redrafted to take into account the present uncertainties and to account for various risks.

"There are also various other matters that companies may need to review, for example, their employment and HR practices and especially in cases where staff are now working from home, whereas before, they used to be based in offices.

"Finally, for those companies that have been the subject matter of legal proceedings, or may wish to commence or take legal action in respect of claims they feel entitled to, then this is something that we can also assist and advise them on."