Law of Singapore

Law of Singapore

The legal system of Singapore is based on the English common law system. Major areas of law – particularly administrative law, contract law, equity and trust law, property law and tort law – are largely judge-made, though certain aspects have now been modified to some extent by statutes. However, other areas of law are almost completely statutory in nature. These include criminal law, company law and family law.

Apart from referring to relevant Singaporean cases, judges continue to refer to English case law where the issues pertain to a traditional common-law area of law, or involve the interpretation of Singaporean statutes based on English enactments or English statutes applicable in Singapore. These days, there is also a greater tendency to consider decisions of important Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Australia and Canada, particularly if they take a different approach from English law.

Certain Singapore statutes are not based on English enactments but on legislation from other jurisdictions. In such situations, court decisions from those jurisdictions on the original legislation are often examined. Thus, Indian law is sometimes consulted in the interpretation of the Evidence Act [] Despite major amendments to the provision in 1979, [By the Civil Law (Amendment No. 2) Act 1979 (No. 24 of 1979).] the problems with it were not resolved until it was finally repealed in 1993 ().

Under the Courts Ordinance Amendment 1885 (S.S.), [Ordinance No. 15 of 1885 (S.S.)] the set-up of the Supreme Court was again altered so that it now consisted of the Chief Justice and three puisne judges. [Chionh, see above, at 104–106.] In 1907 the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was given a major overhaul. [By the Courts Ordinance 1907 (No. 30 of 1907) (S.S.).] The Court was split into two divisions – a Civil Division and a Criminal Division, each with both original and appellate jurisdiction. District Courts and Police Courts, which replaced the Magistrates' Courts, were also established. The Court of Requests, the jurisdiction of which had been drastically reduced in the intervening years, was abolished. [Chionh, see above, at 106–107.] The last major changes in the court system before World War II took place in 1934 when a Court of Criminal Appeal, essentially an extension of the Supreme Court's jurisdiction, was created, [By way of the Court of Criminal Appeal Ordinance 1931 (No. 5 of 1931) (S.S.): Lee, see above, at 19.] and in 1936 when it was declared that the Supreme Court would consist of a High Court and Court of Appeal. [By the Courts Ordinance (Cap. 10, 1936 Rev. Ed.) (S.S.).]

1942–1946: Singapore under Japanese and British Military Administration

During World War II, Singapore fell under Japanese Military Administration on 15 February 1942. There is much confusion as to where legislative authority lay, as there were several government or military bodies which had the power to make laws. These were, in order of descending authority, the Supreme Command of the Southern Army Headquarters, the 25th Army Headquarters, the Military Administration Department, the Malay (Malayan) Military Administration Headquarters, and the City Government of Tokubetu-si. Numerous regulations, laws and notices were issued by all these bodies through the Tokubetu-si without adhering to the normal chain of command. Although these laws were often contradictory, the body higher in the hierarchy always prevailed.

When the Japanese occupation of Singapore began, all existing courts ceased to function. By a decree of 7 April 1942, a Military Court of Justice of the Nippon Army was established, and the civil courts were reopened by a proclamation dated 27 May. This Proclamation made all former British laws applicable so long as they did not interfere with the Military Administration. The highest court was the Syonan Koto-Hoin (Syonan Supreme Court) which was opened on 29 May. Although a court of appeal was constituted, it never sat. [Lee, see above, at 20.]

There is some disagreement as to the status of judgments handed down by courts during the Japanese Occupation. The view has been taken by some post-Occupation courts that decisions by Japanese tribunals applying the law were valid. Others have held that since the Japanese administration did not set up tribunals in compliance with the requirements of Straits Settlements law, while the law continued to apply there were no proper courts in existence to enforce it. [Bartholomew, see above, at lxviii–lxix.]

The Japanese surrendered on 12 September 1945. By Proclamation No. 1 (1945), the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia established the British Military Administration which assumed full judicial, legislative, executive and administrative powers and responsibilities and conclusive jurisdiction over all persons and property throughout such areas of Malaya as were at any given time under the control of forces under his command. [Bartholomew, see above, at lxix.] The Proclamation also declared that all laws and customs existing immediately prior to the Japanese Occupation would be respected, except that such of the existing law as the Chief Civil Affairs Officer considered practicable to administer during the period of military administration. Otherwise, all proclamations and legislative enactments of whatever kind issued by or under the authority of the Japanese Military Administration ceased to have effect. [Bartholomew, see above, at lxx.]

By Proclamation No. 23 (1945), the Deputy Chief Civil Affairs Officer for the Singapore Division provided that every conviction of any offence by a tribunal established by the Japanese Military Administration was quashed, and any judgment convicting or purporting to convict any person or any offence was set aside. [Bartholomew, see above, at lxx.] Civil proceedings were dealt with by the Japanese Judgments and Civil Proceedings Ordinance 1946 (No. 3 of 1946), which had the effect of permitting post-Occupation courts to review the decrees of Japanese tribunals and to confirm, modify or reverse them. [Bartholomew, see above, at lxxi.]

1946–1963: The end of the Straits Settlements: Singapore as a separate colony and self-governing state

The British Military Administration was terminated by Proclamation No. 77 (1946) dated 18 March 1946, and with effect from 1 April the Straits Settlements were disbanded by the Straits Settlements (Repeal) Act 1946. [9 & 10 Geo. VI c. 37 (UK).] By the Singapore Colony Order in Council 1946, [S.R. & O. 1946 No. 464 (UK)] Singapore was constituted as a new colony under the British Settlements Acts 1887. [50 & 51 Vic. c. 54 (UK).] A Singapore Legislative Council was created with power to legislate for the peace, order and good government of the Colony. [Bartholomew, see above, at lxxxi–lxxxii.] The High Court and Court of Appeal of the Straits Settlements became the Colony of Singapore High Court and Court of Appeal.

In 1958 Singapore was granted internal self-government and became the State of Singapore. This change was put into place by the Singapore (Constitution) Order in Council 1958 [S.I. 1958 No. 1946 (UK).] made under powers conferred by the State of Singapore Act 1958. [6 & 7 Eliz. II c. 59 (UK): Bartholomew, see above, at lxxiv.] The Legislative Council was transformed into a Legislative Assembly consisting mainly of elected members.

During this period, the basic structure of the courts remained much as it had been in the pre-war colonial era, with only minor changes being made such as the redesignation of the Police Courts as Magistrates' Courts in 1955. [By way of the Courts Ordinance 1955 (No. 14 of 1955, later Cap. 3, 1955 Rev. Ed.): Chionh, see above, at 113.]

1963–1965: Independence from the British Empire and merger with Malaysia

Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963, and thus ceased to be a colony of the British empire. The legal arrangements were effected by the enactment of the Malaysia Act 1963, [c. 35 (UK).] the Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore (State Constitutions) Order in Council 1963 [S.I. 1963 No. 1493 (UK).] and the Malaysia Act 1963. [No. 26 of 1963 (M'sia): Bartholomew, see above, at lxxvi.] The 1963 Order in Council provided that all laws in force in Singapore continued to apply subject to modifications, adaptations, qualifications and exceptions that might be necessary to bring them into conformity with its new Constitution and the Malaysia Act. [See above, at lxxvii.] With Singapore now a state in a larger federation, the Singapore Legislative Assembly was transformed into the Legislature of Singapore with power to make laws only regarding certain matters set out in the Malaysian Federal Constitution. Article 75 of the Federal Constitution also stated: "If any state law is inconsistent with a federal law, the federal law shall prevail and the state law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void."

During this period, a substantial number of Malaysian laws, including Federated Malay States Enactments and Malayan Union and Federation of Malaya Ordinances, were extended to Singapore. Some of these statutes continue to apply, often in modified form, in Singapore today. [Bartholomew, see above, at lxxix.]

Under the Malaysia Act 1963, the judicial power of Malaysia was vested in a Federal Court, a High Court in Malaya, a High Court in Borneo and a High Court in Singapore. This new structure was formalized with effect from 16 March 1964 through the Courts of Judicature Act 1964 (M'sia), [No. 7 of 1964 (M'sia), reprinted as Act No. 6 of 1966 in the "Singapore Reprints Supplement (Acts)".] which replaced the Supreme Court of the Colony of Singapore with the High Court of Malaysia in Singapore. [Lee, see above, at 30.] The jurisdiction of the High Court in Singapore was limited to all territory in the State of Singapore. [Chionh, see above, at 113.]

1965 to the present: Singapore as a fully-independent nation

Merger with Malaysia did not last: within two years, on 9 August 1965, Singapore left the Federation and became a fully-independent republic. This was effected by the signing of the Independence of Singapore Agreement of 7 August 1965 by Singapore and Malaysia, and the changes consequent to the Agreement were implemented by two Malaysian Acts, the Constitution and Malaysia (Singapore Amendment) Act 1965 [No. 31 of 1965 (M'sia).] and the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1966; [No. 59 of 1966 (M'sia)] and by two Singapore Acts, the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1965 [No. 8 of 1965 (S'pore).] and the Republic of Singapore Independence Act 1965. [No. 9 of 1965 (S'pore).] Section 5 of the latter Act provided that the legislative powers of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the supreme ruler of Malaysia, ceased to extend to Singapore, and vested instead in the Head of State (that is, the President of Singapore) and the Legislature of Singapore. Again, all laws were expressed to continue in force with such modifications, adaptations, qualifications and exceptions as might be necessary to bring them into conformity with the independent status of Singapore upon separation from Malaysia. [Bartholomew, see above, at lxxix–lxxx.] Today, the Parliament of Singapore is an organ of state with plenary power to enact legislation for Singapore.

At the time of independence, the Singapore Parliament did not make any changes to the judicial system. Thus, for an anomalous four-year period, the High Court in Singapore remained part of the Malaysian court structure. This was remedied in 1969. The Constitution was also amended to reconstitute the Privy Council as Singapore's court of final appeal, [By the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1969 (No. 19 of 1969): Lee, see above, at 30 and 32.] and the highest appellate court within Singapore was organized into two divisions, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Criminal Appeal, which respectively dealt with civil and criminal matters. [Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1969 (No. 24 of 1969), now
*cite book|last=Tan|first=Kevin Y.L. (Yew Lee)|coauthors=Thio Li-ann|title=Tan, Yeo & Lee's Constitutional Law in Malaysia and Singapore|edition=2nd ed.|location=Singapore|publisher=Butterworths Asia|year=1997|isbn=0-409-99908-3 (pbk.)
*cite book|last=Tan|first=Kevin Y.L. (Yew Lee) (ed.)|title=The Singapore Legal System|edition=2nd ed.|location=Singapore|publisher=Singapore University Press|date=1999|id=ISBN 9971-69-212-0 (hbk.)|isbn=9971-69-213-9 (pbk.)
*cite book|title=You & the Law 3|edition=3rd ed.|location=Singapore|publisher=Singapore Association of Women Lawyers|date=2002|isbn=981-04-5152-0 (pbk.)

External links

ingapore law

* [ Information on the Singapore legal system from the website of the ASEAN Law Association]
* [ Law in Singapore – an index by the C.J. Koh Law Library, National University of Singapore]
* [ LawNet]
* [ Singapore Statutes Online – a service of the Attorney-General's Chambers, Singapore]
* [ SingaporeLaw – a service managed by the Singapore Academy of Law and Ministry of Law, Singapore]

Government ministries and agencies

* [ Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), Singapore]
* [ Ministry of Law]
*** [ Community Mediation Centre (CMC)]
*** [ Insolvency and Public Trustee's Office (IPTO)]
*** [ Legal Aid Bureau]
**Statutory boards
*** [ Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS)]
*** [ Singapore Land Authority (SLA)]
*** [ Appeals Board (Land Acquisition)]
*** [ Copyright Tribunal]
*** [ Land Surveyors Board, Singapore]


* [ Parliament of Singapore]


* [ Supreme Court of Singapore]
* [ Subordinate Courts of Singapore]
** [ Family Court of Singapore]
** [ Juvenile Court of Singapore]
** [ Small Claims Tribunals]
* [ Syariah Court of Singapore]

Alternative dispute resolution

* [ Community Mediation Centre (CMC)]
* [ Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC)]
* [ Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC)]

Legal education

* [ Board of Legal Education (BLE)]
* [ IP Academy, Singapore]
* [ Nanyang Technological University (NTU) — College of Business (Nanyang Business School)]
** [ Division of Business Law]
* [ National University of Singapore (NUS)]
** [ Department of Business Policy, NUS Business School]
** [ Faculty of Law]
*** [ Asian Law Institute (ASLI)]
*** [ Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law (APCEL)]
*** [ Centre for Commercial Law Studies (CCLS)]
* [ Singapore Management University (SMU)]
** [ School of Law]
* [ Temasek Polytechnic — Temasek Business School]
** [ Diploma in Law and Management]

Legal associations and organisations

* [ Law Society of Singapore]
* [ Singapore Academy of Law]
* [ Singapore Corporate Counsel Association]

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