Everything you should know about Singapore legal system
Singapore has one of the world’s best legal systems, mainly known for its strength, fairness, and efficiency – these are a few qualities making Singapore one of the best places for business startups.
According to its annual Doing Business report, the World Bank considers Singapore’s regulatory environment the most business-friendly. Continue reading the article to know everything about Singapore legal system.
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2 Understanding the Court System
Introduction to Singapore’s Legal System
As per the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), Singapore is the less risky country across Asia.
However, most people consider Singapore as the rule-bound country also known as a fine city (charging extensive fines for littering, smoking in public, forgetting to flush toilets after use, jaywalking and chewing gum, etc.), besides the strict laws it is known as the safest country to settle down and start a business. Among all other countries worldwide, Singapore has the lowest crime rates.
As a former British colonial state, Singapore follows English common law, and all the citizens of Singapore have equal rights under the law without regard to their race, religion, or creed.
Singapore’s legal system consists of four fundamental principles – the Constitution, the Law, State legislation, and legal decisions made by judges.
Understanding the Court System
The Head of the Judiciary is the Chief Justice, who the President appoints. The judiciary is composed of Supreme Court and the Subordinate Courts. The supreme court organizes the hearings of civil and criminal court-related matters and then categorizes them into the Court of Appeal and the High Court. Courts under the Subordinate Court System include Magistrates Courts, District Courts, Juvenile Courts, Coroners’ Courts, and Small Claims Tribunals. A senior district judge looks after the Subordinate courts. However, all the people need to get an in-depth understanding of the court’s system to get an idea of which court to approach to attend the hearing or when you are looking to sue something or being sued.
Court Of Appeal
As its name clearly says it all, the court of appeals hears to the appeals from the decision of the High Court concerning both civil and criminal related matters. The court of appeals is headed by the Chief justice and judges of appeal. Basically, the court of appeal consists of three judges (the Chief Justice and two Judges of Appeal). Moreover, in some situations, the number of judges might fluctuate less than or more than three.
High Court comprises the Chief Justice and Judges of the High Court (in some situations, a Judge of Appeal or a subject matter expert can provide required assistance). Usually, all legal proceedings are heard by one judge.
The high court is the place where both the criminal and civil cases matters are presented. Along with hearing criminal and civil cases, the High Court also looks after the appeals from District Court decisions and Magistrates’ Court judgments. Furthermore, the High Court oversees the case related to the bankruptcy, company winding-up, admiralty matters, and applications for enrolling advocates and solicitors. Generally, the High Court has been granted supervisory and revisionary jurisdiction on all its subordinate courts irrespective of civil or criminal matters. The High Court only accepts those cases and matters whose minimum value of claim crosses 2,50,000 SGD. Singapore High Court has the complete authority to try all cases involving criminal offenses occurring within Singapore and crimes outside Singapore; it also has the authority to try cases involving the death penalty or sentences of more than ten years.
The subordinate court consist of the magistrate court, district courts, small claims Tribunal, Coroners Court, and Juvenile Court. The senior District Court is solely responsible for subordinate courts administration. Over the years, several other courts, including night Court, community Court, Syariah court, traffic court, and family Court have also become an integral part of the Subordinate Court.
Only those civil cases are heard in the District Court whose subject matter claim exceeds $60,000 but should be within $2,50,000. Also, this court has the jurisdiction to take over the criminal offenses punishable by a fine only or whose maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years or less. The court has the authority to sentence anyone to be imprisoned for (a) a maximum of seven years (b) fining up to 10,000 SGD, (c) beaten with a cane for up to twelve strokes, (d) asked to undergo reformative training or (e) any combination thereof.
The magistrate court accepts the civil matters involving the claims within 60,000 SGD. The magistrate court also has the jurisdiction to take up the cases with a maximum sentence of three years or below or those offenses punishable by a fine. The magistrate court has the authority to send anyone for the imprisonment of up to 2 years, impose a fine of 2,000 SGD or beat by 6 strokes of the cane to those involved in the punishable offenses.
A Juvenile Court deals exclusively with the alleged crimes committed by Children (under 14) and young persons (14 to 16). It conducts Beyond Parental Control cases, Juvenile Arrest cases, and Care and Protection Order cases.
Specifically, this court holds inquiries for deaths that occur suddenly or unnaturally, caused by violence, or result from an unknown cause of death. Suicide cases, accidents on the road and in the workplace, and deaths in prison are common instances for which the Coroner is liable. They also work with the police to conduct investigations. Basically, the coroner is known as the judge of the subordinate court that conducts all the possible investigations with the coordination of the police.
Small Claims Tribunal
The small claim Tribunal deals with the inquiry of the small claims between the suppliers and consumers, the contract concerning the sale and purchase of goods and services, and the lease of residential premises, which must not be more than 2 years. The tribunal looks after those matters whose claim value does not exceed 10,000 SGD, but in some cases, they can also go past 20,000 SGD. Such cases will be sorted within a year, and none of the parties need to be represented by the lawyer. Referees are selected by the President, on the recommendation of the Chief Justice, to preside over the Tribunal.
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The family court oversees only those cases which involve divorce, children issues, division of matrimonial property, adoption, joint conferences, spousal and child maintenance, family violence, personal protection orders, and many other related matters.
Two-night courts are available to the working public from Monday through Friday after 6 pm to accommodate the large volume of regulatory cases. The first night court looks after summonses and notices issued by several departments, including the housing and development board, central Provident fund, registry of companies and businesses, and the urban Redevelopment authority. On the other side, the second night court manages all the matters related to road traffic brought up by the traffic police and regulatory offenses by the Land Transport Authority.
The community court usually manages all those cases that are completely related to the useful offenders between 16 to 18 years of age, offenders with mental disability, attempted suicide cases, family violence cases, neighborhood disputes, carnal collection offenses performed by the youthful offenders, abuse and cruelty on animals, all those cases that negatively impacts the race relations issues and selected cases including offender aged 65 years of age and above.
The topmost responsibility of the Syariah court is to administer and sort out all the marriage and divorce-related disputes among the parties who either comes from the Muslim community or have married according to Muslim law.
A traffic court is responsible for handling traffic offense cases brought by the Traffic Police and Land Transport Authority.
Types of Law and Courts
Singapore’s Criminal Law is predominantly statutory, as it can be traced to its comprehensive Penal Code. The Penal Code provides explanations of the crimes described in its 24 chapters and the maximum and minimum punishment. Originally, the penal code was based on Indian law, but it has now been replaced with the Criminal Procedure Code based on the law dealing with criminal procedures in England. Criminal proceedings in Singapore are conducted in the High Court and Court of Appeal. Investigating and trying criminal offenses under the Penal Code and other laws are governed by the Criminal Procedure Code.
The High Court manages the following matters:
- Jurisdiction over criminal offenses in its original territory
- Appeal from a Subordinate Court’s decision
- Reopening the criminal related matters and process, which the subordinate courts initially managed
- Cases transferred by the Subordinate Courts to the High Court concerning the points of law reserved for the High Court’s consideration
The Court of Appeal handles the following matters:
- When the appeal is made against the decision taken by the high court under its actual criminal jurisdiction
- Criminal issues are reserved for consideration from original, appellate, and revisionary hearings of the High Court.
Several criminal cases can also carry forward to the criminal mentions court. The accused person must be presented at the Criminal Mentions Court when the prosecution is ready to file the charges. After an arrest and remand, a criminal must be charged within 48 hours, and the criminal courts are divided into two types, the District Arrest Court (DAC) and the Magistrates Arrest Court (MAC).
Generally, the high courts handle the proceedings where the value of the subject matter of the claims crosses 250,000 SGD. Any claim for which the amount in dispute is less than 250,000 SGD is dealt with by the District Court, and any claim for which the amount in dispute is less than 60,000 SGD is handled by the Magistrates’ Court. The small claim tribunal handles the matters whose claim amount is within 10,000 SGD (or maximum up to 20,000 SGD upon agreed by both parties) over the issues occurring due to any contract for the sale of goods or services or any property damage (except in cases of motor vehicle accidents).
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Compared to several other countries, the judicial system of Singapore is quite more effective and efficient. With the adoption of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options, Singapore’s courts have become more accessible to the public. Solving the legal issue through alternative dispute resolution is far cheaper, easier, and quicker than litigation in the courts. In Singapore, there are two different types of ADR, i.e., mediation and arbitration.
The mediation offers a legally binding forum for the respective parties to work on their differences and the mediator’s support. However, almost all the mediators in Singapore have undergone training at the Singapore mediation center, i.e., a non-profit institute. Mediation is effective in most cases, and most disputes are settled in a day.
In arbitration, even if any of the parties do not agree with the arbitrator’s decision, the arbitrator’s decision is legally binding. Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) offers arbitration for most civil cases but not criminal or family-related legal disputes. SIAC decisions are enforceable in over 120 nations under the New York Convention.
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Resolving Disputes through Court System
Generally, business-related matters are conducted in the civil courts. You can appeal in the High Court, magistrate Court, small claim tribunal, and the High Court based on the nature and amount of the claim. Besides these courts, several other courts help you resolve disputes, including copyright tribunal and labor court.
The Copyright Tribunal is mainly to help you resolve disputes between the copyright owner and the person using copyright material.
The labor court handles issues among the employer and employees when issues cannot be resolved in the medication or re-conciliation.
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Unlike many Asian and foreign countries with a corrupt and convoluted legal system that harms businesses through over-regulations. The Singapore legal system provides you the great opportunity and at the same time encourages you to start a business through reasonable laws, fair implementation of those laws, and instant dispute resolution.
However, if you have been a part of any legal matter and your legal documents are in a foreign language, don’t worry. We have a solution for you. The reliable documents translation agency i.e., Singapore translators offers you a quality legal documents translation service without charging much.