Courts arbitrate between the citizen and the state, dispensing justice based on the law. Singapore does not have jury trials, which were abolished in 1969. Trials for capital offences are heard before a single Judge.
The Chief Justice, Judges of Appeal, Judges and Judicial Commissioners are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.
There are two tiers of the court system in Singapore:
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial court in Singapore. It consists of the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
The High Court bench is made up of the Chief Justice and Judges of the High Court. The High Court hears both criminal cases and civil claims exceeding S$250,000 in the first instance, as well as appeals from District Court and Magistrates’ Court decisions. The High Court has the power to try all offences committed in Singapore and even some outside of Singapore. In general, it hears criminal cases where offences are punishable by death or imprisonment of more than 10 years.
For probate matters, a case is brought to the High Court only if the value of the deceased’s estate is more than S$3 million or if the case involves the resealing of a foreign grant. The High Court also hears ancillary matters in family proceedings involving assets worth more than S$1.5 million.
The High Court decides points of law in special cases submitted by a District Court or a Magistrate’s Court. The High Court has general jurisdiction over all State Courts in any civil or criminal matter, and can therefore reverse decisions from the State Courts or ask for a new trial to be conducted.
Cases are usually heard before a single Judge, unless otherwise stated in the written law.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal hears appeals of criminal and civil cases from the High Court. Appeals are usually heard by three Judges, although some appeals are heard by only two Judges. In major cases, the Court of Appeal may comprise five or more uneven number of Judges.
The Court of Appeal is presided over by the Chief Justice and comprises the Judges of Appeal. In the Chief Justice’s absence, a Judge of the Supreme Court or a Judge of Appeal may take his place.
The first tier is the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in Singapore. It comprises the High Court and Court of Appeal, both of which hear criminal cases and civil claims exceeding S$250,000.
The second tier is the State Courts (previously called the Subordinate Courts) which administer justice among the people. More than 95% of all judicial cases in Singapore are heard in the State Courts.
Different courts have been set up to hear different types of cases.
: hear claims to recover monies for debt, demand or damages of up to S$250,000.
: hear claims to recover monies for debt, demand or damages of up to S$60,000.
Small Claims Tribunal
: offers a faster and less costly process for claims of up to S$10,000 (or up to S$20,000 with written agreement from both parties).
: hear cases regarding divorces, maintenance, custody, domestic abuse and adoptions.
: hear offences committed by persons below 16 years old.
: hears offences committed by persons aged 16 to 18 or with mental disabilities, as well as other cases such as neighbourhood disputes, family violence, cruelty to animals and those related to racial issues.
: holds inquiries into cases where a person has died suddenly, unnaturally, violently or in a way that cause of death is unknown and needs to be determined.
Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC)
The SICC was set up in 2013 as part of the Supreme Court to hear transnational commercial disputes.
It serves to complement arbitration by providing a court-based alternative for international commercial dispute resolution. The Judges comprise specialist commercial judges from Singapore and international judges from civil and common law traditions.
The SICC builds on the strong foundations of the Supreme Court, recognised for its integrity, fairness and efficiency, as well as Singapore’s reputation as the leading arbitration hub in Asia. By positioning Singapore as a prime destination for international commercial dispute resolution, the SICC bolsters Singapore’s standing as a key legal and business hub.