The Judiciary

BalanceThe Court of Appeal
The highest court of the land is the permanent Court of Appeal which hears
both civil and criminal appeals emanating from the High Court and the Subordinate
Courts. The Practice Statement on Judicial Precedent issued by the Supreme Court on 11 July 1994 clarified that the Singapore Court of Appeal is not bound by its own decisions as well as prior decisions of the Privy Council. However, it would continue to treat such prior decisions as normally binding, though it may depart from the prior precedents where it appears right to do so.

The High Court
The High Court Judges enjoy security of tenure whilst the Judicial Commissioners are appointed on a short-term contract basis. Both, however, enjoy the same judicial powers and immunities. Their judicial powers comprise both original and appellate jurisdiction over both civil and criminal matters. The recent appointment of some High Court judges to specialize in arbitration matters at the High Court adds to the two existing specialist courts: the Admiralty and the Intellectual Property Court.

The Constitutional Tribunal
A special Constitutional Tribunal was also established, within the Supreme Court, to hear questions referred to by the Elected President on the effect of constitutional provisions.

The Subordinate Courts
The Subordinate Courts (consisting of the District Courts, Magistrates’ Courts, Juvenile Courts, Coroners Courts as well as the Small Claims Tribunals) have also been set up within the Singapore judicial hierarchy to administer justice amongst the people. With the increased sophistication in business transactions and law, the Commercial Civil and Criminal District Courts have recently been established within the Subordinate Courts to deal with the more complex cases. Specialist judges have also been appointed on an ad-hoc basis to hear specific complex cases.

The District and Magistrates’ Courts
The District Courts and the Magistrates’ Courts share the same powers over specific matters such as in contractual or tortious claims for a debt, demand or damage and in actions for the recovery of monies. However, the jurisdictional monetary limits in civil matters for the Magistrates’ Courts and District Courts are $60,000 and $250,000 respectively. The courts also differ in terms of criminal sentencing powers. Imprisonment terms imposed by the Magistrates’ Courts are limited to two years and for the District Courts, seven years.

The Small Claims Tribunals
The Small Claims Tribunals, on the other hand, afford a speedier, less costly and more informal process for the disposition of small claims with a monetary limit of only $20,000 (provided the disputing parties consent in writing).

Family Courts
Apart from the above courts, the Family Courts deal with divorces, maintenance, custody and adoptions.