Singapore Table of Contents
Singapore's judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court, consisting of a chief justice and an unspecified number of other judges. All are appointed by the president, acting on the advice of the prime minister. The judiciary functions as the chief guardian of the Constitution through its judicial review of the constitutionality of laws. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act of 1969, and various subsequent acts ensured judicial independence and integrity by providing for the inviolability of judges in the exercise of their duties and for safeguards on their tenure.
The Constitution establishes two levels of courts--the Supreme Court and the subordinate courts. The subordinate courts are the magistrates' courts, trying civil and criminal offenses with maximum penalties of three years' imprisonment or a fine of S$10,000 (for value of the Singapore dollar--see Glossary); the district courts, trying cases with maximum penalties of ten years' imprisonment or a fine of S$50,000; the juvenile courts, for offenders below the age of sixteen; the coroners' courts; and the small claims courts, which hear civil and commercial claims for sums of less than S$2,000. The Supreme Court consisted of the High Court, which has unlimited original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases and which tries all cases involving capital punishment; the Court of Appeal, which hears appeals from any judgment of the High Court in civil matters; and the Court of Criminal Appeal, which hears appeals from decisions of the High Court in criminal cases. The final appellate court is the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council in London. According to Article 100 of the Constitution, the president may make arrangements for appeals from the Supreme Court to be heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. In May 1989, Parliament abolished the right to appeal to the Privy Council except for criminal cases involving the death sentence and civil cases in which the parties had agreed in writing to such an appeal at the outset. The judicial system reflected British legal practice and traditions, except for trial by jury. Singapore abolished jury trials except for capital offenses in 1959; all jury trials were abolished by the 1969 amendment of the code of criminal procedure.
The chief justice and other judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. The prime minister, however, is required to consult the chief justice on his recommendations for the Supreme Court. Judges of the subordinate courts are appointed by the president on the advice of the chief justice. Singapore's judges and superior courts repeatedly demonstrated their independence from the government by ruling against the government in cases involving political opponents or civil liberties. The government response in such cases was to amend the law or to pass new laws, but it did not attempt to remove or to intimidate judges. Although internal political struggle in Singapore from the 1950s through the 1980s was often intense, and the ruling government was quite willing to intimidate and imprison its political opponents, it always followed legal forms and procedures.
The attorney general is appointed by the president, on the advice of the prime minister, from persons qualified to become judges of the Supreme Court. A judge may be removed from office only for misbehavior or incapacitation, which must be certified by an independent tribunal. The attorney general, who is assisted by the solicitor general, is the principal legal advisor to the government, serves as the public prosecutor, and is responsible for drafting all legislation. The office of the attorney general, the Attorney General's Chambers, is divided into the legislation, civil, and criminal divisions.
Data as of December 1989