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Legal System

Singapore - Legal System


Singapore has a parliamentary system of government that is based on the Westminster Model. The foundation of its legal system can be traced back to the English legal system, although it has evolved over time. It also draws inspiration from the United States’ Constitution, judge-made law, and, subsidiary legislation. Citizens are all equal in the eyes of law regardless of their race, religion and creed.

The supreme law is the Constitution and this makes up the framework for the Executive, the Legislature and Judiciary. The Elected President, Attorney-General, and Cabinet make up the Executive branch. The President is elected by the people while the Cabinet is made up of the Prime Minster and Ministers who are appointed by Parliament. The Attorney-General is the main legal advisor to the government. The President and Parliament make up the Legislature which is the legal authority responsible for enacting legislation. The Subordinate Courts and Supreme Court makes up the Judiciary branch of government. The head of the Judiciary is the Chief Justice.

The Singapore Academy of Law provides a service called LawNet which provides information and research for the citizens and foreigners of Singapore. You can find a public search service, legal research, due diligence, an electronic filing system and more here.

Singapore Academy of Law: http://www.sal.org.sg

LawNet: http://www.lawnet.com.sg

If you would like to peruse a free database of Singapore legislation then Statutes Online is one that is updated on a monthly basis. http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/home.w3p Singapore Parliament publishes a list of Bills at: http://www.parliament.gov.sg

The Supreme Court hears civil and criminal matters. It is divided into the Court of Appeal and the High Court. There is also the District Courts, Magistrates’ Courts, Juvenile Courts, Coroners’ Court and Small Claims Tribunals in the Subordinate Courts, which a Senior District Judge oversees.

The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the decisions of the High Court in civil and criminal matters. The Chief Justice and Judges of Appeal sit in the Court of Appeal. There are usually two Judges of Appeal and one Chief Justice, although there can be more or less than three at once.

The High Court is made up of the Chief Justice and Judges of the High Court (which can include a Judge of Appeal or even subject matter experts in some cases). Most proceedings are heard in front of a single judge. The High Court hears appeals from the Magistrates’ and Districts Courts and will hear both civil and criminal cases. It also hears cases associated with admiralty, company winding-up, and bankruptcy matters. Normally, the matters the High Court deals with has a value whose claims exceed S$250,000. In criminal matters, The High Court tries cases where the death penalty or more than 10 years of imprisonment are at stake.

The Subordinate Courts include the Syariah Court, District Courts, Magistrates’ Courts, Traffic Court, Juvenile Courts, Family Court, Coroners’ Courts, Night Court, and Small Claims Tribunals. If a civil case involves claims of more than S$60,000 but less than S$250,000 then it’s heard before the District Court. District Court can sentence an individual to a maximum prison sentence of 7 years, impose a maximum fine of up to S$10,000 or a caning of up to 12 strokes and impose reformative training. It can also impose a combination of any of these.

If a civil case involves a claim that is not more than S$60,000 then it can go to the Magistrate Court which also tries cases that have a maximum imprisonment of 3 years or below or offences that are only punishable by a fine. It can impose a sentence for a maximum of 2 years a maximum fine of S$2,000. It can also issue a maximum of 6 strokes of the cane as punishment.

The Juvenile Court deals with offenders who are under the age of 14 (“children”) or with those who are considered “young persons” (14 to 16 years of age). Some of the cases it includes are Juvenile Arrest Cases, Beyond Parental Control Cases, and Care & Protection Order Cases.

The Small Claims Tribunal is one of the busiest courts since it deals with the resolution of small claims between consumers and suppliers as well as issues with leases of residential premises. All of the claims must be lodged within a year of the dispute. Parties involved don’t have to get a lawyer, but some do.

Community Court is also a popular system since it deals with cases that relate to youthful offenders, attempted suicide cases, those with mental handicaps, neighborhood disputes, family violence cases, cruelty to animal cases, and those which impact on race relation issues.

One of the most important aspects of the Singapore legal system is the Common Law, which was adopted from the British. In this, judges are only required to apply the operative reason for the decision of the higher court within the same hierarchy. A lot of the aspects of Singapore law, including tort law, contract law, and property law, are made by judges. The Criminal Law system is similar to the Penal Code, which was originally based on Indian Law. All of the criminal offences are investigated and tried according to the Criminal Procedure Code.

Court itself can be time consuming and pricey so these are things to take into consideration before you go. A lot of the disputes that revolve business are settled through the Mediation and Arbitration procedures, out of court.

Mediation falls under the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC), a non-profit body. Mediators come from the legal or other professional fields and assist the parties in reaching an acceptable solution for all. The mediator only mediates the situation and does not actually settle it for the parties. Mediation fees start at about S$900 per day. There are different mediation centers. These include: The Labour Relations Department of the Ministry of Manpower, the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) Mediation Centre, eAlternative Dispute Resolution, Financial Industry Disputes Resolution Centre, and the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV).

Arbitration is legally binding, although it does not take place in a court room. Unlike mediation, it is legally binding and the arbitrator will reach a decision for the parties involved. The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) handles the arbitration cases in Singapore. It can handle civil cases, but not any criminal or family law matters.

If you need to find an attorney while you are in Singapore, you can get references from co-workers or other expats. You can also find a law practice through the Law Society of Singapore.: http://www.lawsociety.org.sg/forPublic/FindaLawPractice.aspx


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