Judicial system of Singapore

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The full Judicial power in Singapore is vested in the Supreme Court as well as subordinate courts by the Constitution of Singapore. The Supreme Court consists of the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The Court of Appeal exercises appellate criminal and civil jurisdiction, while the High Court exercises both original and appellate criminal and civil jurisdiction.[1] The Chief Justice, Judges of Appeal, Judicial Commissioners and High Court Judges are appointed by the President from candidates recommended by the Prime Minister. The prime minister must consult with the Chief Justice before recommending the judges. The current Chief Justice is Sundaresh Menon.

In 2006, the subordinate courts initiated a pilot scheme to appoint specialist judges to the Bench. These judges will come from the legal profession and academia and the scheme is aimed at bringing additional expertise to the subordinate courts as well as giving practitioners and academics an insight to the workings of the judiciary of Singapore.[2]

Jury trials were abolished in 1969 and the Criminal Procedure Code was amended in 1992 to allow for trials of capital offences to be heard before a single judge.[3] The Court of Appeal is Singapore's final court of appeal after the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London was abolished in April 1994. The president has the power to grant pardons on the advice of the cabinet.[4]

Singapore practices the common law legal system, where the decisions of higher courts constitute binding precedent upon courts of equal or lower status within their jurisdiction, as opposed to the civil law legal system in the continental Europe. The current criminal code was preceded by the Indian Penal Code which was adopted when Singapore was a crown colony.

In 2004, the US Department of State claimed that although Singapore's judicial system provides citizens with an efficient judicial process, the judiciary is largely compliant and the government often use defamation suits or the threat of such actions to discourage public criticism and intimidate the press.[5]

Judicial independence

Singapore has a reputation for fairness and impartiality in commercial law, and is a popular jurisdiction for arbitration and trial in South-East Asia. The Canadian case of Oakwell Engineering v. Enernorth Industries called into question this impartiality and raised the issue of whether the judgments of Singaporean courts are enforceable outside Singapore, but claims of links between the judiciary, business and the executive arm in Singapore which were alleged to suggest a real risk of judicial bias were dismissed in appeals to the Court of Appeal for Ontario and Canadian Supreme Court.[6]

The United States Department of State claims the President of Singapore and the Minister for Home Affairs have substantial de facto judicial power, leading "to a perception that the judiciary reflected the views of the ruling party in politically sensitive cases." In addition, Singapore's "judicial officials, especially the Supreme Court, have close ties to the ruling party and its leaders".[5] The President appoints judges to the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and in consultation with the Chief Justice. The President also appoints subordinate court judges on the recommendation of the Chief Justice.

Government leaders historically have used court proceedings, in particular defamation suits, against political opponents and critics, leading to a perception that the judiciary reflected the views of the ruling party in politically sensitive cases.[5] Notable cases include those against opposition leaders J. B. Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan. Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, in his 2009 keynote speech to the New York State Bar Association International Section, said: "Commonwealth judiciaries like ours have a common tradition that judges do not defend their judgments in public. They let their judgments and the reasons for their decisions speak for themselves. This is where I will leave this particular issue."


14 September 2008 Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) survey reported Hong Kong and Singapore have the best judicial systems in Asia, with Indonesia and Vietnam the worst: Hong Kong's judicial system scored 1.45 on the scale (zero representing the best performance and 10 the worst); Singapore with a grade of 1.92, followed by Japan (3.50), South Korea (4.62), Taiwan (4.93), the Philippines (6.10), Malaysia (6.47), India (6.50), Thailand (7.00), China (7.25), Vietnam (8.10) and Indonesia (8.26).[7][8] In 2010, the Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Project ranked Singapore number one for access to civil justice in the high-income countries group.[9]

See also


  1. "Supreme Court of Judicature Act". Attorney-General of Singapore. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  2. "Dean Tan Cheng Han S.C. '87 appointed Specialist Judge" (PDF). National University of Singapore. 3 August 2006. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  3. "History". Supreme Court of Singapore. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 18 December 2013. |section= ignored (help)
  4. "Constitution of the Republic of Singapore". Attorney-General of Singapore. Archived from the original on 18 December 2013. Retrieved 18 December 2013. |section= ignored (help)
  5. 1 2 3 "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Singapore". U.S. Department of State. 28 February 2005. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  6. K.C. Vijayan, "Payout Fight Over 'Biased Judiciary' Rejected: Firm's Final Bid to Canada's Highest Court Fails, so S'pore Court Judgment Stands", The Straits Times (27 January 2007).
  7. afp.google.com/article, Hong Kong has best judicial system in Asia: business survey
  8. www.abs-cbnnews.com, Hong Kong has best judicial system in Asia: business survey
  9. Channel NewsAsia

Further reading

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