CONSTITUTION AND JURISDICTION
The Judiciary is one of the three branches of government in Singapore. The other two branches are the Executive and the Legislature. Under Article 93 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, judicial power in Singapore is vested in the Supreme Court and in such subordinate courts as may be provided for by any written law for the time being in force. The Chief Justice is the head of the Judiciary.
Structure of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, and hears both civil and criminal matters. The Supreme Court Bench consists of the Chief Justice, the Judges of Appeal, Judges and Judicial Commissioners of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Registry is headed by the Registrar who is assisted by the Deputy Registrar, Senior Assistant Registrars and Assistant Registrars. Justices’ Law Clerks, who work directly under the charge of the Chief Justice, assist the Judges of Appeal, Judges and Judicial Commissioners by carrying out research on the law.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal hears appeals against the decisions of High Court Judges in both civil and criminal matters. It became Singapore’s final court of appeal on 8 April 1994, when appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council were abolished.
The Chief Justice sits in the Court of Appeal together with the Judges of Appeal. A Judge of the High Court may, on the request of the Chief Justice, sit in the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal is presided over by the Chief Justice, and in his absence, a Judge of Appeal or a Judge of the High Court.
The Court of Appeal is usually made up of three Judges. However, certain appeals, including those against interlocutory orders, may be heard by only two Judges. If necessary, the Court of Appeal may comprise five or any greater uneven number of Judges.
The High Court consists of the Chief Justice and the Judges of the High Court. A Judge of Appeal may also sit in the High Court as a Judge. Proceedings in the High Court are heard before a single Judge, unless otherwise provided by any written law. The High Court may also appoint one or more persons with expertise in the subject matter of the proceedings to assist the court.
The High Court hears both criminal and civil cases as a court of first instance. The High Court also hears appeals from the decisions of District Courts and Magistrates’ Courts in civil and criminal cases, and decides points of law reserved in special cases submitted by a District Court or a Magistrates’ Court. In addition, the High Court has general supervisory and revisionary jurisdiction over all subordinate courts in any civil or criminal matter.
With a few limited exceptions, the High Court has the jurisdiction to hear and try any civil action where the defendant is served with a writ or originating summons in Singapore, or outside Singapore in the circumstances authorised by Rules of Court, or where the defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the High Court. Generally, except in probate matters, a civil case must be commenced in the High Court if the value of the claim exceeds S$250,000. Probate matters are commenced in the High Court only if the value of the deceased’s estate exceeds S$3 million or if the case involves the resealing of a foreign grant. In addition, ancillary matters in family proceedings involving assets of S$1.5 million or more are also heard in the High Court.
The following matters are also exclusively heard by the High Court:
- Admiralty matters;
- Company winding-up proceedings;
- Bankruptcy proceedings; and
- Applications for the admission of advocates and solicitors.
The High Court has jurisdiction to try all offences committed in Singapore and may also try offences committed outside Singapore in certain circumstances. In criminal cases, the High Court generally tries cases where the offences are punishable with death or imprisonment for a term which exceeds
Supreme Court Registry
The registrars perform both administrative and judicial functions. They preside over hearings of various pre-trial and post-trial matters in chambers. These include:
- Applications for summary judgment;
- Bankruptcy applications;
- Taxation of costs;
- Assessment of damages; and
- Various other interlocutory applications such as those for discovery of documents or for striking out of pleadings.
They also conduct pre-trial conferences and take charge of case management, including case scheduling. In their concurrent appointments as Magistrates or District Judges, they conduct Preliminary Inquiries in criminal cases. Some registrars also hold appointments on tribunals and various committees.
In addition, the registrars supervise the Registry counter staff in their daily operations and take charge of various Registry portfolios such as personnel, finance, corporate communications and security. They also steer and drive projects involving case management, organisational excellence, information technology, and knowledge management in the Judiciary.