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A Guide to the Singapore Legal System and Legal Research

 

by Tzi Yong Sam Sim

 

Tzi Yong 'Sam' Sim is a graduate of the National University of Singapore (LLB). He holds BA, MA from Cambridge University, and he is presently an LLM candidate (2007) at the New York University School of Law.

 

Published February 2007

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Introduction

This guide will hopefully serve as a useful, convenient preliminary introduction to the Singapore Legal System, a wonderful example of the successful application of Common law in a multi-ethnic Asian setting which has helped forge a disparate gathering of immigrants into a nation and enabled the economic leap-frog from Third World to First in a single generation.[1]

 

Table of contents

Background and Constitution

Major Constitutional Developments: Post-independence

The Judiciary

The Court System

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Primary Sources of Law

Primary Legislation: Acts of Parliament

Electronic Sources for Legislation

Selected Legislation (including treaties)

Common Law

Law Reports

Citations

Electronic Sources for Case Law

Subscription Services

Indexes and Digests

Legislation and Case Law Indexes

Singapore Journal of Legal Studies

Parliamentary Information

Sources of Parliamentary Proceedings

Free Trade and Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements

Singapore Government

Official Publications

Regional-ASEAN

Background

The Singapore Legal Profession

Introduction

The Singapore Academy of Law

Legal Education

Legal Publishers

Legal News & Current Awareness

 

The Singapore Legal System

Background and Constitution

In the 19th century, the British, who were extending their dominion in India, and whose trade with China in the second half of the 18th century was expanding, saw the need for a port of call in the South-East Asia region. As a result, in late 1818, Lord Hastings, Governor-General of India, gave tacit approval to Sir Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen, to establish a trading station at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Singapore was thus established by Raffles when he landed on 29 January 1819 and on 6 February 1819, concluded a formal treaty with Sultan Hussein of Johor and the Temenggong, the de jure and defacto rulers of Singapore respectively.

 

In 1824, Singapore's status as a British possession was formalised by two new treaties. The first was the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of March 1824, by which the Dutch withdrew all objections to the British occupation of Singapore. The second treaty was made with Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman in August, by which the two owners ceded the island out right to the British in return for increased cash payments and pensions.

 

The Straits Settlements and Japanese Occupation

Singapore, together with Malacca and Penang, the two British settlements in the Malay Peninsula, became the Straits Settlements in 1826, under the control of British India. As a result, British common law applied to Singapore as it did in India, especially the Penal Code which was imported from the penal laws applicable to India during that time.

 

By 1832, Singapore had become the centre of government for the three areas. On 1 April 1867, the Straits Settlements became a Crown Colony under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office in London.

 

During the ensuing decades, Singapore prospered as a trading post and as the major strategic naval station in the Far East of the British. This was interrupted when Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, and was renamed Syonan (Light of the South). It remained under Japanese occupation for the next three and a half years. Japanese law applied during this time.

 

Towards Self-Government- Birth of the Constitution

The British forces returned in September 1945 and Singapore came under the British Military Administration. When the period of military administration ended in March 1946, the Straits Settlements was dissolved. On 1 April 1946, Singapore became a Crown Colony with a new Colonial Constitution. Constitutional powers were initially vested in the Governor who had an advisory council of officials and nominated non-officials. This evolved into the separate Executive and Legislative Councils in July 1947. The Governor retained firm control over the colony but there was provision for the election of six members to the Legislative Council by popular vote. Hence, Singapore's first election was held on 20 March 1948.

 

When the Communist Party of Malaya tried to take over Malaya and Singapore by force, a state of emergency was declared in June 1948. The emergency lasted for 12 years. Towards the end of 1953, the British government appointed a commission under Sir George Rendel to review Singapore's constitutional position and make recommendations for change. The Rendel proposals were accepted by the government and served as the basis of a new constitution that gave Singapore a greater measure of self-government.

 

The 1955 election was the first active political contest in Singapore's history.  The Labor Front won 10 seats and David Marshall became Singapore's first Chief Minister on 6 April 1955, with a coalition government made up of his own Labor Front, the United Malays National Organization and the Malayan Chinese Association. Marshall resigned on 6 June 1956, after the breakdown of constitutional talks in London on attaining full internal self government. Lim Yew Hock, Marshall's deputy and minister for Labor became the Chief Minister. The March 1957 constitutional mission to London led by Lim Yew Hock was successful in negotiating the main terms of a new Singapore Constitution.

 

On 28 May 1958, the Constitutional Agreement was signed in London. The British Parliament passed a State of Singapore Act and Singapore's status was changed from a colony to a state. The Singapore (Constitution) Order-in-Council was enacted and it created the position of a Yang di-Pertuan Negara as the constitutional head of state, a prime minister and a 51-elected member Legislative Assembly.

 

Self-government was attained in 1959. In May that year Singapore's first general election was held to choose 51 representatives to the first fully elected Legislative Assembly. The PAP won 43 seats, gleaning 53.4 percent of the total votes. On June 3, the new Constitution confirming Singapore as a self-governing state was brought into force by the proclamation of the Governor, Sir William Goode, who became the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State). The first Government of the State of Singapore was sworn in on June 5, with Mr Lee Kuan Yew as Singapore's first Prime Minister.

 

Part of Malaysia

To prevent a communist take-over of Singapore, on 27 May 1961, the Malayan Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, proposed closer political and economic co-operation between the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei in the form of a merger. The main terms of the merger, agreed on by him and Lee Kuan Yew, were to have central government responsibility for defence, foreign affairs and internal security, but local autonomy in matters pertaining to education and labor. A referendum on the terms of the merger held in Singapore on 1 September 1962 showed overwhelming support the merger. Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963, and consisted of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (now Sabah). Brunei opted out. Singapore officially joined the Federation of Malaysia. The Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore (State Constitutions) Order-in-Council was enacted

 

Independence

The merger proved to be short-lived. Singapore was separated from the rest of Malaysia on 9 August 1965, and became a sovereign, democratic and independent nation. This separation was effected by three documents: The Constitution of Malaysia (Singapore Amendment) Act, the Constitution of Singapore (Amendment) Act and the Republic of Singapore Independence Act of 1965.

 

Independent Singapore was admitted to the United Nations on 21 September 1965, and became a member of the Common wealth of Nations on 15 October 1965. On 22 December 1965, it became a republic, with Yusof bin Ishak as the republic's first President.

 

The Constitution of Singapore is the supreme law of Singapore and it is a codified constitution. The Constitution cannot be amended without the support of more than two-thirds of the members of parliament on the second and third readings. The president may seek opinion on constitutional issues from a tribunal consisting of not less than three judges of the Supreme Court. Singaporean courts, like the courts in Australia, cannot offer advisory opinions on the constitutionality of laws.

 

Fundamental Rights

The Constitution entrenches certain fundamental rights, such as the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and equal rights. These individual rights are not absolute but qualified by public interests such as the maintenance of public order, morality and national security. Apart from the general protection of racial and religious minorities, the special position of Malays, as the indigenous people of Singapore, is constitutionally mandated.

 

Powers and Functions of Organs of State

The Constitution contains express provisions delineating the powers and functions of the various organs of state, including the Legislature (Section 5), the Executive (Section 6) and the Judiciary (Section 7).

Major Constitutional Developments: Post-independence

  • 1970:  to safeguard the rights of the racial, linguistic and religious minorities, the Presidential Council was established and later renamed the Presidential Council for Minority Rights in 1973.
  • 1984:  a constitutional amendment was passed to provide for non-constituency members of Parliament.
  • 1988: a constitutional amendment was passed to introduce group representation constituencies (GRCs). At least one member of the GRC must be from a minority race.
  • 1988: the constitution was amended to provide for nominated members of Parliament.
  • 1991: the constitution was amended to provide for a popularly elected president.

 

The Judiciary

The Court System

The judge is the arbiter of both law and fact in Singapore. The jury system had been severely limited in Singapore and was entirely abolished in 1970. Judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court (comprising the Singapore Court of Appeal and the High Court) as well as the Subordinate Courts.

 

The 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. As a significant watermark of Singapore’s legal history, appeals to the Privy Council in England were abolished in 1994. 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.

 

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.

 

The Courts and Information Technology

The Judiciary has taken major steps in utilizing information technology in the courts which has, in part at least, enhanced its efficiency. The Technology Courts were, for instance, set up to enable the sharing of information by lawyers and judges and the giving of evidence by witnesses via video conferencing. Legal actions involving a company or an individual may be monitored using a facility known as Casewatch. The Electronic Filing System (EFS), a joint project by the Judiciary, Singapore Network Services and the Singapore Academy of Law (http://www.sal.org.sg) to enable the filing, extraction and service of court documents as well as the tracking of case information by electronic means, has recently undergone further refinements to upgrade services to end-users. Various information technology innovations have also been utilized to facilitate and streamline various criminal processes, namely the registration and management of criminal cases (SCRIMS), the processing of traffic charges between the police and the courts (TICKS 2000) and the payment of fines for minor traffic offences (ATOMS).

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is rapidly growing as an alternative means of dispute resolution for matters ranging from domestic and social conflicts to large-scale cross-border legal disputes.  ADR, with negotiation, mediation and arbitration as the main modes practiced in Singapore, is an effective, efficient and economical means of resolving a spectrum of disputes in a variety of settings.

 

ADR began tentatively in the 1980s when the government envisaged Singapore as a major dispute resolution centre. The Singapore Government is a strong proponent of ADR and has put in place substantive institutional and infrastructural framework to support this endeavor. The Rules of Court (Cap 322, Rule 5, 1999 Rev Ed) provide ample opportunity for ADR even within a litigation setting. Various modes of ADR could still be relied upon even if litigation proceedings have begun. For instance, litigants or their legal representatives may either apply to the court for the matter to be referred to mediation, or directly to the Singapore Mediation Centre itself.

 

In 1986, Singapore acceded to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Under this Convention, each contracting State is required to recognize and enforce arbitral awards made in another contracting State. Arbitral awards rendered in Singapore are potentially enforceable in more than 120 jurisdictions. The International Arbitration Act (Cap 143A, 2002 Rev Ed), which incorporates the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, gives effect to the Convention.

 

In 1991, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) was established. This was followed by the establishment of the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) in 1997. In 1994, mediation of civil disputes was first introduced in the Subordinate Courts through the Court Mediation Centre. Since then, mediation is routinely conducted in the Small Claims Tribunals, the Family Court, the Juvenile Courts, and the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports’ Maintenance of Parents Tribunal (Cap 167B). In "e@dr", electronic technology has been harnessed for parties in e-commerce transactions to resolve their disputes through the internet.

 

As part of the national effort to foster a mediation culture, the Community Mediation Centres Act (Cap 49A, 1998 Rev Ed) was enacted in 1997 to spearhead the community mediation endeavour, which is seen as an effective means of settling relational disputes on the ground, especially in multi-racial, multi-religious Singapore. There are now four regional Community Mediation Centres (CMCs) and seven satellite mediation venues. The effort is aimed at developing an Asian model of mediation drawing on the customary and influential role of the traditional leaders of the various races in mediating conflicts within those communities.

 

In April 2003, the Chief Justice appointed Justice Judith Prakash to preside over all arbitration matters brought before the High Court. This is part of the Judiciary’s goal of ensuring that Judges with the requisite expertise and experience preside over cases involving specialized areas of law and commercial practice.

 

Primary Sources of Law

Primary Legislation: Acts of Parliament

Singapore Statutes Online

A joint initiative of the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Managing for Excellence Office, Ministry of Finance, the Singapore Statues Online is a legal research tool which offers the public free access to the full text consolidation of Acts of Parliament that are in force.  The Singapore Statues Online is a subset of the Versioned Legislation Database (VLDB), the official database of Bills, Acts and subsidiary legislation of Singapore. The Singapore Statues Online is updated once a month (generally on the 15th of the month).  The Singapore Statues Online provides an alphabetical index of the Act titles and a search interface for easy retrieval of any Act or provisions of Acts.

Electronic Sources for Legislation

Bills introduced (commencement of 10th Parliament)

Bills introduced and passed in Parliament from 1 April 2002, beginning with the Police Force (Amendment) Bill (Bill no.01/2002), are available on the Singapore Parliament website.

 

Singapore Statutes Online

Full texts of consolidated Singapore statutes, including the legislative history of each Act. Amendments to statutes are updated regularly on this website, but take note that only the Revised Editions of Acts are authoritative. Administered by the Attorney-General's Chambers.

 

Lawnet

Lawnet is a fee-based network administered by the Singapore Academy of Law. Subscribers to the Legal Workbench database have access to Singapore legislation, case law and treaties including:

  • Rev. Ed. of Singapore Statutes
  • Rev. Ed. Of Singapore Subsidiary legislation
  • Acts supplements
  • Bills supplements
  • Singapore Law Reports 1965-
  • Malayan Law Journal 1932-
  • Academy Digest 1995-
  • Heritage Law Reports
  • Military Court of Appeal decisions 1973-
  • Unreported judgments 1991-
  • Parliament reports 1977-
  • Damages for personal injuries database
  • Singapore treaties database

 

LawNet Legal Workbench maintains a comprehensive and up-to-date repository of on-line legal research information such as statutory and case law.

 

Complimentary Access for Legal Academics

Three months complimentary access to Legal Workbench for the purpose of writing academic papers or articles touching on Singapore law.  See LawNet for more details.

Selected Legislation (including treaties)

Arbitration Rules

The SIAC rules and the SIAC Domestic Arbitration Rules are published by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).

 

Free Trade Agreements

Full texts of free trade agreements concluded between Singapore and other countries. Published by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

 

Internet Policy and Regulatory Framework

The Media Development Authority regulates Internet Service Providers and Internet Content Providers through the Class License Scheme and Internet Code of Practice.

 

Intellectual Property Office of Singapore Practice Directions

Practice directions relating to patents, trademarks, registered designs and plant varieties protection. Click on "Legal Resources" on the top menu bar of the webpage for a complete listing of the various categories.

 

Manpower Legislation

Acts and regulations relating to labour relations, occupational health and occupational safety. Published by the Ministry of Manpower.

 

Monetary Authority of Singapore - Legislation & Notices

The Monetary Authority of Singapore publishes statutes, regulations and notices which it administers as well as other legislation which govern the financial industry in Singapore.

 

Monetary Authority of Singapore - Singapore Code on Take-overs and Mergers

Published on the MAS website.

 

Rules of Court (Supreme Court of Judicature Act)

Rules made pursuant to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act relating to all proceedings within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Subordinate Courts. This latest revised edition incorporating all amendments up to 1 April 2006 is published by the Supreme Courts.

 

Tax Treaties

The Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements concluded by Singapore since 1965 are available in full text. These are made available by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

 

Women's Charter and Others

The Women's Charter and rules issued under the Act are made available by the Family Court of Singapore.

Common Law

Singapore has inherited the English common law tradition. In essence, the common law system of Singapore is characterized by the doctrine of judicial precedent (or stare decisis). According to this doctrine, the body of law is created incrementally by judges via the application of legal principles to the facts of particular cases. In this regard, the judges are only required to apply the ratio decidendi (or the operative reason for the decision) of the higher court within the same hierarchy. Thus, in Singapore, the ratio decidendi found in the decisions of the Singapore Court of Appeal are strictly binding on the Singapore High Court, the District Court and the Magistrate’s Court. The court decisions from England and other Commonwealth jurisdictions are, on the other hand, not strictly binding on Singapore. Other judicial statements (obiter dicta) made by the higher court in the judgment which do not directly affect the outcome of the case may be disregarded by the lower court.

 

The lower court is able, in some cases, to avoid having to apply the ratio decidendi in a prior higher court’s decision if (a) it can materially distinguish the facts of the case before the lower court from those in the prior higher court’s decision; or (b) the higher court’s decision was made per incuriam (that is, without abiding by the doctrine of stare decisis) in the first place.

 

Influences of and Departures from English Common Law

The heavy influence of the English common law on the development of Singapore law is generally more evident in certain traditional common law areas (such as Contract, Tort and Restitution) than in other statute-based areas (such as Criminal Law, Company Law and the Law of Evidence). With respect to the latter, other jurisdictions such as India and Australia have strongly influenced the approach and content of some of these statutes.

 

However, the erstwhile tendency of Singapore courts to adhere to English decisions has recently given way to some significant departures from the English courts (even in the traditional common law areas). This development of local jurisprudence reflects the need for the autochthony of Singapore law is further driven by the European Union legal developments and their impact on the British system.

Law Reports

Singapore Law Reports

Under an arrangement with the Government and Supreme Court of Singapore, the Singapore Academy of Law is Singapore’s official law-reporting agency with primary responsibility for the selection and publication of Singapore case law.

 

First published in 1992, the Singapore Law Reports are an integral part of legal practice and scholarship in Singapore. The series reports on a fortnightly basis all legally-significant cases heard in the Singapore Court of Appeal and High Court, and by the Constitutional Tribunal. Cases are selected for publication by the Council of Law Reporting chaired by the Attorney-General.  The Singapore Law Reports are available in print and on-line though the Legal Prospector module of LawNet.

 

LawNet: Legal Workbench

Subscription database containing Singapore case law. Use of LawNet is on a per-session basis in half-an-hour blocks of time for the following:

1) Singapore Law Reports

2) Malayan Law Journal

3) Academy Digest

4) Unreported judgments

Citations

Mallal's Digest: Consolidated Table of Cases 2000 Reissue

Alphabetical table of cases digested in the fourth edition of Mallal's Digest Reissue volumes. Refer to the Preface for dates of coverage.  Available at the National University of Singapore library.

 

The Singapore Law Reports : Consolidated Index and Tables

There are 2 volumes containing alphabetical tables and subject indexes of cases reported in the Singapore Law Reports for the years 1965-1996 and 1997-2000 respectively. For more recent cases, refer to the tables and indexes in the individual volumes of the Singapore Law Reports.  Available in the National University of Singapore library.

Electronic Sources for Case Law

Case Law & Decisions

Free access to judgments of the following courts for the last 3 months are provided by LawNet.

 

Grounds of Decision for Cases of Public Interest

Full text judgments from the Subordinate Courts

 

SingaporeLaw: Judgments

Case law on this website includes Supreme Court judgments of the past three months and a selection of earlier judgments. Managed by the Singapore Academy of Law.

 

Trade Mark Decisions

Summaries of grounds of decisions made by the Registry of Trade Marks (1999-). The summaries are for information only and are not meant to be a comprehensive.

Subscription Services

Lexis.Com

This full-text database contains cases from the Singapore Law Reports and Malayan Law Journal.

 

LawNet : Legal Workbench

Subscription database containing Singapore case law, in particular:

1) Singapore Law Reports

2) Malayan Law Journal

3) Academy Digest

4) Unreported judgments

Indexes and Digests

Mallal's Digest: Consolidated Table of Cases 2000 Reissue

Alphabetical table of cases digested in the fourth edition of Mallal's Digest Reissue volumes. Refer to the Preface for dates of coverage.  Available in the National University of Singapore library.

 

The Singapore Law Reports: Consolidated Index and Tables

There are 2 volumes containing alphabetical tables and subject indexes of cases reported in the Singapore Law Reports for the years 1965-1996 and 1997-2000 respectively. For more recent cases, refer to the tables and indexes in the individual volumes of the Singapore Law Reports.  Available in the National University of Singapore library.

Legislation and Case Law Indexes

Singapore Subsidiary Legislation (1981-1991) / Singapore Subsidiary Legislation (1991-)

Searchable indexes of all amendments to Singapore Subsidiary Legislation (1990 Ed.).  Available in the National University of Singapore library.

 

The Statutes of the Republic of Singapore (Indexes)

The Alphabetical Index of Public Acts, Subject Index to Acts, and Chronological Table of Singapore Acts are found at the front of the first volume of the Statutes. Available in hardcopy at the Loans Desk of the C J Koh Law Library, the National University of Singapore.

 

Singapore Journal of Legal Studies

The Singapore Journal of Legal Studies (and its predecessor journals, the University of Malaya Law Review and the Malaya Law Review) is in its 5th decade of publication. The journal is managed by its Editorial Committee drawn from the Law Faculty of the National University of Singapore with assistance and advice from eminent legal personalities from other institutions in Singapore and abroad. It is fully peer-reviewed under conditions of anonymity by subject specialists within and outside the Law Faculty, NUS.

 

It is one of the oldest legal journals in the British Commonwealth. The Journal has always covered both domestic and international legal developments.

 

Parliamentary Information

The Singapore Parliament

The Singapore Parliament has a single House and together with the President of Singapore is known as the Legislature.  The main function of the Singapore Parliament is the enactment of laws governing the State.

 

The Singapore Parliament is modeled after the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy where Members of Parliament are voted in at regular General Elections. The leader of the political party that secures the majority of seats in Parliament will be asked by the President to become the Prime Minister (PM). The PM will then select his Ministers from elected MPs to form the Cabinet. When the new Parliament meets for the first time, the Speaker will be elected followed by the oath taking of Members. The "life" of each Parliament is 5 years from the date of its first sitting after a General Election. General Elections must be held within 3 months of the dissolution of Parliament.

 

The Law-Making Process

The law-making process begins with a Bill, normally drafted by the Government legal officers. Private members’ bills are rare in Singapore. During the parliamentary debates on important Bills, the Ministers sometimes make impassioned speeches to defend the Bill and answer pointed queries raised by the backbenchers. The Members of Parliament (MPs) may, in some cases, decide to refer the Bill to a Select Committee to deliberate upon and submit a report to the Parliament. If the report is favourable or the proposed amendments to the Bill are approved by Parliament, the Bill is accepted by the Parliament and passed.

 

The Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) established under the Singapore Constitution is tasked, except for certain exempted bills, to scrutinise Bills for any measures which may be disadvantageous to persons of any racial and religious communities without being equally advantageous to other such communities, either by directly prejudicing persons of the community or indirectly giving advantage to another community. If the report of the PCMR is favourable or a two-thirds majority in Parliament has been obtained to override any adverse report of the PCMR, the Bill proceeds, as a matter of course, for the President’s assent . It is at this juncture that the Bill is formally enacted as ‘law’.

 

Composition

In terms of composition, the Singapore Parliament consists of both elected and non-elected Members of Parliament (MPs).

 

Elected MPs

The elected MPs are drawn from candidates who have emerged victorious in general elections held every 4 to 5 years. At present, Parliament is dominated by the ruling PAP with a smallish representation from the opposition political parties. They are drawn from a combination of single-member constituencies as well as Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs). Established in 1988, the GRC presently consists of 4 to 6 members, at least one of whom must be of a designated minority race. The underlying aim for the GRC is to entrench multiracialism in Singapore politics.

 

Non-Elected MPs

The non-elected MPs, on the other hand, do not enjoy voting rights on constitutional amendments, money bills and votes of no-confidence in the Government. They consist of two different categories: the Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) and the Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP). NCMPs are appointed from the candidates who have polled the highest percentage of votes amongst the ‘losers’ in the general election.

Sources of Parliamentary Proceedings

The following can be found on the Parliament website:

  • Votes & Proceedings
  • Order Paper
  • Singapore Parliament Reports
  • Select Committee Reports
  • Bills Introduced
  • Standing Orders
  • Parliamentary Glossary

 

Free Trade and Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements

Singapore is connected to the major world economies and increasingly to new markets by a network of 13 Free Trade and more than 50 Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements.

 

Singapore’s trade architecture includes her network of FTAs including ones with major economies like India and more being negotiated in the pipelines, including with the Gulf Co-operation Council and China. With FTAs, Singapore-based exporters and investors stand to enjoy a myriad of benefits like tariff concessions, preferential access to certain sectors, faster entry into markets and Intellectual Property (IP) protection.

 

The Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement between Singapore and another country serves to prevent double taxation of income earned in one country by a resident of the other country. It also makes clear the taxing rights between Singapore and her treaty partner on different types of income arising from cross-border economic activities between the two countries. The agreements also provide for reduction or exemption of tax on certain types of income.

 

Details can be found as follows:

 

Singapore Government

SINGOV is the default homepage for the Singapore Government Online. All gov.sg sites are to link back to SINGOV. Its intuitive url www.gov.sg is short and easy to remember.

 

SINGOV is the "Government" component of the Singapore Government Online. It serves as a convenient launch pad for users to locate information on the Singapore Government - such as government news and policies, leadership and bureaucracy, official statistics put out by the government, as well as details and contact information of public service agencies. SINGOV not only acts as a gateway, it also highlights important information.

 

Singapore government information and publications can be access through the link. It includes archives of Government Press Releases, official policy speeches, information from the various Ministries' Newsrooms and Key Agencies' Releases. There is also a useful directory of major governmental organs and a listing of the key officials. 

Official Publications

Official publications like the Singapore Government Gazettes and Supplement are printed by SNP CORPORATION LTD. These are available online by subscription under the eGazette service. Subscription gives access to the entire database of eGazette, subscription may commence at any time of the year. The eGazette is updated daily.

 

Both current notices and back issues are available for the following:

1) Government Gazette 

2) Bills Supplement 

3) Acts Supplement

4) Subsidiary Legislation Supplement 

5) Industrial Relations Supplement 

6) Treaties Supplement

 

Hardcopies may also be ordered from the website.  Alternatively, the contact details are :

SNP Corporation Ltd

Legal Publishing

1 Kim Seng Promenade #18-01/06

Great World City East Tower

Singapore 237994

 

Operating Hours

Mon to Fri: 9:30am to 6:00pm

Closed on Saturday, Sunday and Public Holiday

 

Tel (65) 68269691 or legalpub@snpcorp.com

 

Regional-ASEAN

Background

Singapore is a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok by the five original Member Countries, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.  Brunei Darussalam joined on 8 January 1984, Vietnam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997, and Cambodia on 30 April 1999.

 

Objectives of ASEAN

The ASEAN Declaration states that the aims and purposes of the Association are: (1) to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and (2) to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

 

The ASEAN Vision 2020, adopted by the ASEAN Leaders on the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN, agreed on a shared vision of ASEAN as a concert of Southeast Asian nations, outward looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.

 

In 2003, the ASEAN Leaders resolved that an ASEAN Community shall be established comprising three pillars, namely, ASEAN Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.  The areas of co-operation, structure, and mechanisms of the ASEAN may be found online.  There have also been efforts aimed at bringing down barriers to trade and creating an ASEAN Free Trade Area.

 

The Singapore Legal Profession

Introduction

The legal profession in Singapore is 'fused' - the Singapore lawyer may act as both an Advocate as well as a Solicitor. Throughout, he or she remains an officer of the Supreme Court. The Singapore lawyer may served in varied roles– including as a legal or judicial officer in the Singapore Legal Service, an in-house counsel of a company or practise law in a local or international law firm. In the local firm, the lawyer typically handles litigation, corporate work, conveyancing and intellectual property work. The lawyer in the international law firm is generally limited to sophisticated corporate, finance and banking transactions.

 

The Law Society primarily upholds the interests of the practising lawyers whilst the Singapore Academy of Law seeks to advance the legal profession as a whole.

 

There are slightly more than 800 law practices in 2006 according to the law society statistics with 88% of them being small practices with 5 or fewer lawyers. As of 31 Mar 2006, there are 3,476 active practitioners who hold a practising certificate.

 

Admission to the Singapore Bar

To be admitted to the Singapore Bar, an aspirant has to first attain the status of a 'qualified person' by obtaining a law degree from the National University of Singapore or from one of the approved overseas universities of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The law graduates from such approved universities are also required to complete the Diploma in Singapore Law conferred by the National University of Singapore. The second important hurdle is to clear the Postgraduate Law Course exams conducted by the Board of Legal Education. Finally, the law graduate is required to fulfill the prescribed period of pupilage with an Advocate and Solicitor in private practice for six months as well as specified dining requirements. Upon fulfillment of the above requirements, he or she is admitted to the Singapore Bar.

 

There are other avenues for admission to the Singapore Bar, albeit more limited, for Queen’s Counsel and Malaysian practitioners.

 

The Singapore Academy of Law

The Singapore Academy of Law ("SAL" or "the Academy") was established by the Singapore Academy of Law Act (Cap. 294A) in 1988. At the time of its inception, Parliament had envisaged an institution patterned after the English Inns of Court, to develop among the legal profession in Singapore a collegiate spirit which is necessary for pride in the profession and in its honourable standards and practices.

 

Over the years, the Academy has evolved from a membership-based body to a service-based institution. It is now also the law reporting agency in Singapore; a continuing legal education provider; a legal publications body; an alternative dispute resolutions agency; an appointing body for Senior Counsel, commissioners for oaths and notaries public; a promoter of legal information technology and the keeper of stake-holding moneys in Singapore.

 

The Academy is a statutory body with a broad set of functions.  Under the Academy is its subsidiary, the Singapore Mediation Centre, which plays a specialised and unique role in the promotion of mediation as alternative means for the resolution of civil, commercial and trade disputes.

 

Legal Education

Law degrees in the Singapore like the UK are at undergraduate level. This is supplemented by the Postgraduate Law course. There has historically been a sole faculty of law in the country at the National University of Singapore. However, in Jan 2007, it was announced that another faculty of law will be set up at the Singapore Management University to offer 4 year law or 5 year joint-degree courses.

 

National University of Singapore Law Faculty

 

NYU@NUS

New York University and National University of Singapore combine to Offer Dual Graduate Degree Program in Singapore. The NYU degree that will be offered in Singapore will be called the LL.M. in Law and the Global Economy. If they wish, students will be able to focus their studies in either U.S. and Asian Business and Trade Law or specialize in Justice and Human Rights.

 

Students enrolled in the NYU@NUS program may also read courses towards the NUS LL.M. degree and can choose to focus their studies on Asian Law, Commercial Law, Intellectual Property and Technology Law, or International Law.

 

SMU School of Law

Recent overtures by the Law Society’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Committee have made important inroads in stressing the need for the Singapore lawyer to continually keep abreast of legal developments.

 

Academic Research

Please see http://law.nus.edu.sg/research_publications/research_pub.htm

Legal Publishers

eGazette

LawNet : Legal Workbench -Subscription database administered by the Singapore Academy of Law containing Singapore statutes, subsidiary legislation, Parliament reports and treaties.

Legal News & Current Awareness

The Law Society website provides short updates on the latest developments in legislation and legal practice. It also carries a classified for jobs.

 



[1] The author wishes to fully acknowledge the various sources from which this research guide draws heavily. The author welcomes any comments and suggestions for improvements:

i)               http://www.singaporelaw.sg/

ii)             http://inic.utexas.edu/asnic/countries/singapore/Singapore-History.html

iii)           http://libpweb.nus.edu.sg/llb/internet/spore_pri.html#LegG

iv)            http://libpweb1.nus.edu.sg/llb/internet/spore_ref.html#cases