THE RULE OF LAW AND THE SINGAPORE CONSTITUTION

Magna Carta and Us

The rule of law and the Singapore Constitution

The rule of law means that everyone in a State, including the government, is subject to the law. One such law, the supreme law of the land – is the Constitution.

In this section, we walk through the milestones in the development of the Singapore Constitution and the rule of law. This section also highlights key clauses in Magna Carta which remain relevant today.


What is the rule of law?

The rule of law is a legal principle that requires everyone, including the government, to obey the law. While the principle is universal, each nation has provisions that take into account special considerations related to its historical and cultural development.

"… For the acid test of any legal system is not the greatness or the grandeur of its ideal concepts, but whether in fact it is able to produce order and justice in the relationships between man and man and between man and the State ...”

Lee Kuan Yew
Founding Prime Minister Speech at the University of Singapore Law Society Annual Dinner 18 January 1962

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon spoke on the rule of law in his speech titled “The Rule of Law: The Path to Exceptionalism”, at the American Law Institute's 93rd Annual Meeting on 16 May 2016.

Please click on this link to access a copy of the speech.


The Second Charter of Justice

The first page of the petition requesting the British Crown to issue the Second Charter of Justice.

The first page of the petition requesting the British Crown to issue the Second Charter of Justice.

Courtesy of Singapore Academy of Law

The Second Charter of Justice was granted to the East India Company on 27 November 1826 on the petition of the Company. The Second Charter of Justice established a court system and made English common law applicable to all the inhabitants of the Straits Settlements (Melaka, Penang and Singapore).

The Second Charter was probably drafted by legal counsel for the East India Company as it would have been in their interest to introduce legislation to consolidate the Company’s economic position. Notably, the Second Charter of Justice states that criminal proceedings were to be administered with “due attention being (given) to the several Religions, Manners and Usages ...” of local communities.

A gathering of street hawkers and others in front of Tong Cheong Tailor at the junction of South Bridge Road and Cross Street in Chinatown.

A gathering of street hawkers and others in front of Tong Cheong Tailor at the junction of South Bridge Road and Cross Street in Chinatown.

Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Thian Hock Keng temple at Telok Ayer Street. Built between 1839 to 1842, it is Singapore's oldest Chinese temple

Thian Hock Keng temple at Telok Ayer Street. Built between 1839 to 1842, it is Singapore's oldest Chinese temple

Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Letters Patent, Establishing the Court of Judicature at Prince of Wales’ Island, Singapore and Malacca, 1826
Published in February 1827

Collection of Supreme Court Singapore

Page 31:
… due attention being had to the several religions, and manners, and usages of the native inhabitants.


What is a Constitution?

A Constitution is a collection of rules that determine the creation and operation of the government and its institutions. In Singapore, under Article 4, the Constitution is the supreme law (read: the mother of all laws). All other laws passed must not contravene the Constitution. This is called constitutional supremacy.

Function of the Singapore Constitution

The Singapore Constitution lays down the fundamental principles and basic framework for the three organs of state, namely, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. The separation of governmental powers among the three branches of government creates a system of checks and balances between them.

What is a Constitution?

Source: SMU Apolitical, The Singapore Constitution: A Brief Introduction (2013)

Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak addressing the House at the opening of the first Parliament of the Republic of Singapore on 22 December 1965.

Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak addressing the House at the opening of the first Parliament of the Republic of Singapore on 22 December 1965. He was later designated the President of Singapore.

Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore


Magna Carta and the Singapore Constitution

Part IV of the Singapore Constitution sets out our fundamental liberties. The protection given to life and personal liberty in Article 9(1) of the Singapore Constitution, and equality in Article 12(1) can be traced back to Magna Carta.


Milestones in Singapore’s Legal and Constitutional History

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