Singapore Judicial System

The Singapore Judiciary’s function is to administer justice to the people of Singapore. It is made up of the Supreme Court, the State Courts (previously named Subordinate Courts) and the Family Justice Courts.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court consists of the High Court and the Court of Appeal and hears both criminal and civil cases. The High Court consists of the General Division of the High Court (“General Division”) and the Appellate Division of the High Court (“Appellate Division”).

General Division

The General Division exercises original and appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases. The General Division also exercises revisionary jurisdiction over the State Courts in criminal cases. It hears cases in the first instance as well as cases on appeal from the State Courts. The types of cases heard by the General Division include the following:
  • Civil cases where the claim exceeds $250,000
  • Admiralty matters.
  • Company winding up proceedings.
  • Bankruptcy proceedings.
  • Applications for the admission of advocates and solicitors.
In criminal cases, the General Division is empowered to try all cases. In general, the General Division tries cases where the offences are punishable by death or with imprisonment terms exceeding 10 years. The General Division can also hear points of law in special cases submitted by a District Court or Magistrate’s Court. The General Division can reverse decisions from the State Courts, or direct the State Courts to conduct a new trial on the matter.

Appeals arising from a decision of the General Division in civil matters will be allocated between the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeal in accordance with the statutory framework set out in the Supreme Court of Judicature Act. In cases where leave is required to appeal against a decision of the General Division, the leave application will be heard by the relevant appellate court, whose decision on the application for leave to appeal will be final. 

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal hears all criminal appeals against decisions made by the General Division in the exercise of its original criminal jurisdiction, prescribed categories of civil appeals and appeals that are to be made to the Court of Appeal under written law. The prescribed categories of civil appeals are set out in the Sixth Schedule to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act.

The Court of Appeal is presided over by the Chief Justice, and in his absence, a Supreme Court Judge or a person appointed by the Chief Justice to preside where the Court of Appeal does not include any Supreme Court Judge. The Court of Appeal is usually made up of three Judges. However, certain appeals may be heard by two, five or any greater uneven number of Judges. Certain appeals may also be decided without hearing oral arguments if parties consent.

Appellate Division

The Appellate Division hears all civil appeals that are not allocated to the Court of Appeal under the Sixth Schedule of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act and any civil appeal or other process that any written law provides is to lie to the Appellate Division. It has no criminal jurisdiction.

Appeals before the Appellate Division will usually be heard by three Judges. However, certain appeals may be heard by two Judges. Parties may also consent to an appeal being decided by a 2-Judge coram of the Appellate Division, instead of a 3-Judge coram. The final composition of the coram will be determined by the Appellate Division. Further, certain appeals may be decided without hearing oral arguments if parties consent.

Civil Cases

  • General

    If you have a civil case (e.g. a claim for breach of contract, or damage caused by negligence), the amount of your claim will determine which court you commence your action in.

    In general, civil cases involving claims not exceeding $60,000 are dealt with by the Magistrates’ Courts. Claims of more than $60,000 but not exceeding $250,000 (or up to $500,000 for road accident claims or claims for personal injuries arising out of industrial accidents) are dealt with by the District Courts. Claims above $250,000 are dealt with by the General Division.

    The law does not require you to be represented by a lawyer unless you are a body corporate (e.g. a limited company or a private limited company). 

  • Procedure

    Anyone who has a claim (known as the Plaintiff) may issue a Writ of Summons or an Originating Summons and have it served to the other party (known as the Defendant). If the Defendant does not dispute the Plaintiff's claim, the Defendant may wish to get in touch with either the Plaintiff or his/her lawyer to settle the claim immediately. By doing so, both parties would incur less legal costs.

    If the Defendant disputes the claim, the Defendant should consult a lawyer quickly. The Defendant's lawyer will then file a document (Memorandum of Appearance) in Court on the Defendant's behalf to dispute the claim. This has to be done within 8 days of the receipt of the Writ of Summons or the Originating Summons. Instead of appointing a lawyer, the Defendant may also wish to file the Memorandum of Appearance by attending at the Registry of the appropriate Court.

    Note that refusing to acknowledge service of a Writ of Summons does not make the service of the Writ of Summons invalid. It also does not prevent the Plaintiff from proceeding further.

    The Plaintiff can obtain an Order of Court (Judgment) to compel the Defendant to pay up the amount claimed if the Memorandum of Appearance is not filed in time.

    The Defendant must then file his/her Defence to the claim in Court and also deliver a copy of the Defence to the Plaintiff's address for service or the Plaintiff's lawyers at their office address within 22 days from the date that he/she was served with the Writ of Summons. If the Defendant has any Counterclaim against the Plaintiff, the Defendant can also make it in the same action brought by the Plaintiff.

    The Plaintiff may deliver to the Defendant his/her Reply (and Defence to a Counterclaim, if any) within 14 days after the Defence (and Counterclaim) has been delivered to him/her. 

  • Appeals

    Parties may appeal against decisions of a District Judge or Magistrate to the General Division. From the General Division, parties may appeal to the Appellate Division or the Court of Appeal unless no appeal is permitted under the law. 

State Courts

The State Courts of Singapore comprise the District Courts and Magistrates’ Courts—both of which oversee criminal and civil matters—as well as the following courts and tribunals 

Coroner's Court

The Coroners’ Courts hold inquiries to determine if crime was involved in someone’s unnatural death. Such inquiries are held when there is reason to suspect that a person has died suddenly or unnaturally, by violence, or when the cause of death is unknown and in situations where the law requires an inquiry. 

Small Claims Tribunals

The Small Claims Tribunals have jurisdiction to hear civil claims not exceeding $20,000 or up to $30,000, if both parties consent in writing, for disputes arising from a contract for the sale of goods, provision of services, an unfair practice relating to a hire-purchase agreement, a tort in respect of damage caused to property, certain statutory claims, or a contract relating to a lease of residential premises not exceeding 2 years

Employment Claims Tribunals

The Employment Claims Tribunals handles salary-related and wrongful dismissal claims not exceeding $20,000 or $30,000 for tripartite-mediated disputes.

Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals

The Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals deal with disputes between neighbours concerning the tort of interference with enjoyment or use of place of residence.

Family Justice Courts

The “Family Justice Courts” is the collective name for a body of courts which comprise the Family Division of the High Court, the Family Courts and the Youth Courts. These Courts are administered by the Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts. The Family Justice Courts hear the full suite of family-related cases including all divorce and related matters, family violence cases, adoption and guardianship cases, Youth Court cases, applications for deputyship under the Mental Capacity Act, and probate and succession matters.

Family Division of the High Court

The Family Division of the High Court hears at first instance cases involving important questions of law or test cases or if it appears to the High Court or Family Court, as the case may be, that a case should be tried in the High Court for any other sufficient reason.

The current position is that the High Court exercises original jurisdiction and hears amongst other cases, ancillary matters in family proceedings involving assets of $5 million or more.

The Family Division of the High Court also hears probate matters where the value of the deceased's estate is more than $5 million or if the case involves resealing of a foreign grant.

Lastly, the Family Division of the High Court hears appeals against the decisions of the Family Courts and the Youth Courts. 

Family Courts

The Family Courts hear all family related cases which include:
  • Divorce and Ancillary matters
  • Maintenance and Family protection
  • Adoption, Guardianship and International Child Abduction in relation to children
  • Mental Capacity and Probate and Administration

Youth Courts

The Youth Courts hear the following cases under the Children and Young Persons Act.
  • Family Guidance cases
  • Care and Protection cases
  • Criminal cases