Singapore Court System

The Singapore Court System consists of:

  1. State Courts
  2. Supreme Court
  3. Family Justice Courts
     
State Courts

The State Courts comprise of the Magistrates’ and District Courts, both of which oversee civil and criminal matters.

Magistrates’ Court

Civil Claims
For civil claims, a Magistrates’ Court has jurisdiction to hear and try an action for the recovery of a sum or sums not exceeding $60,000. A Magistrate will hear and try a civil action in open court, unless otherwise ordered. At the conclusion of the trial, the Magistrate will pronounce judgment and such judgment shall (subject to appeal to the High Court) be final and conclusive between the parties. Please click here for an overview of the civil justice process in the State Courts.

Criminal Cases
In criminal cases, a Magistrates’ Court can hear offences where the maximum imprisonment term does not exceed 5 years or are punishable with a fine only. A Magistrate may pass any of the following sentences:

  • Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000
  • Up to 6 strokes of the cane
  • Any lawful sentence combining any of the sentences which it is authorised to pass by law

However, where the law expressly provides for it, the Magistrates’ Courts also have the jurisdiction to try offences and impose sentences which exceed the above limits. Please click here for an overview of the criminal justice process in the State Courts.

District Court

Civil Claims
For civil claims, a District Court has jurisdiction to hear and try an action for the recovery of a sum or sums between $60,000 and $250,000. A District Judge will hear and try a civil action in open court, unless otherwise ordered. At the conclusion of the trial, the District Judge will pronounce judgment and such judgment shall (subject to appeal to the High Court) be final and conclusive between the parties. The District Judge is also concurrently appointed as a Magistrate. When presiding in a Magistrates’ Court, a District Judge only has the powers and jurisdiction of a Magistrate. Please click here for an overview of the civil justice process in the State Courts.

Criminal Cases

In criminal cases, a District Judge can hear offences where the maximum imprisonment term does not exceed 10 years or are punishable with a fine only. A District Judge may pass any of the following sentences:

  • Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years
  • A fine not exceeding $30,000
  • Up to 12 strokes of the cane
  • Any lawful sentence combining any of the sentences which it is authorised by law to pass

Where the law expressly provides for it, the District Judge can also hear offences and impose sentences which exceed the above limits. Please click here for an overview of the criminal justice process in the State Courts.

Coroner's Court

The Coroner is a Judge of the State Courts who, with the assistance of the police, conducts investigations into the circumstances in which a deceased person died. The Coroner's Court deals with cases that are classified by the Police as Coroner's cases. The Coroner's Court will hold an inquiry when there is reason to suspect that a person has died in a sudden or unnatural manner, by violence, when the cause of death is unknown and in situations where the law requires an inquiry.

Examples of these cases are suspected suicides, road traffic and industrial accidents, and death which has occurred in prison. Where the death appears peaceful but the cause of death is not known, the Police may also classify the case as a Coroner’s case.

Community Court

The Community Court was established on 1 June 2006. It adopts a problem-solving approach to special categories of cases and combines criminal justice and community resources in dealing with these cases. Examples of the types of cases heard by the Community Court include: youthful offenders (aged 16 to 18), offenders with mental disabilities, neighbourhood disputes, attempted suicide cases, family violence cases, carnal connection offences committed by youthful offenders, abuse and cruelty to animals, cases which impact on race relations issues and selected cases involving offenders aged 65 years and above.

Small Claims Tribunals

The Small Claims Tribunals (“Tribunals”) were established to provide a quick and inexpensive forum for the resolution of small claims between consumers and suppliers.

Jurisdiction of Small Claims Tribunals
The Tribunals have jurisdiction to hear claims not exceeding $10,000. Where the Claimant and the Respondent consent in writing, the jurisdiction can be raised to $20,000. All claims must be filed within 1 year from the date of the incident. Some examples of the types of claims heard at the Tribunals: contracts for the sale of goods or the provision of services, tortious damage to property (but not including damages arising because of a motor vehicle accident) and contracts relating to a lease for residential premises which does not exceed 2 years.

Filing a claim in the Small Claims Tribunals
The procedure for bringing a claim in the Tribunals is very simple. Lawyers are not permitted to represent any of the parties in proceedings before the Tribunals. Unless the Tribunals decide that a claim is either vexatious or frivolous, costs are not awarded to the winning party. To file a claim at the Tribunals, a party is required to pay a lodgement fee.

Attending Consultation/Mediation
After a claim is lodged or filed, the Tribunals will fix the claim for a consultation/mediation before the Registrar. The Tribunals will generally fix the consultation/mediation within 10 to 14 days from the date of filing of the claim. If a claim is not settled at the consultation before the Registrar, it will generally be fixed for hearing within 7 to 10 days from the date of consultation. For a tourist claim, the Tribunals may fix both the consultation/mediation and the hearing within 24 hours of filing of the claim.

The Tribunals employ mediation extensively in their proceedings. At the consultation before the Registrar, the Registrar will mediate the claim to assist parties in resolving the dispute. If the claim is fixed for Hearing before the Referee, the Referee may also explore the possibility of settlement before adjudicating the claim.

Please click here for more information on the Tribunals.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court consists of the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

High Court

The High Court hears both criminal and civil cases as a court of first instance. The High Court also hears appeals from the decisions of District Courts and Magistrates’ Courts in civil and criminal cases, and decides on points of law reserved in special cases submitted by a District Court or a Magistrates’ Court.

Civil Claims
Generally, except in probate matters, a civil case must be commenced in the High Court if the value of the claim exceeds $250,000. Probate matters are commenced in the High Court only if the value of the deceased's estate exceeds $3,000,000 or if the case involves the resealing of a foreign grant. In addition, ancillary matters in family proceedings involving assets of S$1,500,000 or more are also heard in the High Court.

Criminal Cases
The High Court has jurisdiction to try all offences committed in Singapore and may also try offences committed outside Singapore in certain circumstances. In criminal cases, the High Court generally tries cases where the offences are punishable with death or imprisonment for a term which exceeds 10 years.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal hears appeals of civil and criminal cases from the High Court. The Court of Appeal is presided over by the Chief Justice, and in his absence, a Judge of Appeal or a Judge of the High Court. The Court of Appeal is usually made up of three Judges. However, certain appeals may be heard by only two, five or any greater uneven number of Judges.

Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC)

The SICC is a division of the High Court and part of the Supreme Court of Singapore designed to deal with transnational commercial disputes. Generally, the SICC has the jurisdiction to hear and try an action if:

  • The claim in the action is of an international and commercial nature;
  • The parties to the action have submitted to the SICC’s jurisdiction under a written jurisdiction agreement; and
  • The parties to the action do not seek any relief in the form of, or connected with, a prerogative order (including a mandatory order, a prohibiting order, a quashing order or an order for review of detention).

The SICC may also hear cases which are transferred from the High Court. SICC proceedings may be heard by either one or three judges. Appeals from the SICC will be heard by the Court of Appeal which will consist of either three or five judges.

Please click here to access the SICC website.

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. The Family Justice Courts will hear the full suite of family-related cases including all divorce and ancillary matters, family violence cases, adoption and guardianship cases, Youth Court cases, applications for deputyship under the Mental Capacity Act, and probate and succession matters. Please click here for more information on the Family Justice Courts.

Youth Courts

The Youth Court deals with offences committed by persons below 16 years of age. The Youth Court is empowered with various options to deal with a child or young person who has committed an offence (the “offender”), such as committing the offender to a care of a relative or other fit person, community service orders, probation orders, detention and reformative training. Please click here for more information on the philosophy, processes and procedures of the Youth Court.

Commencing A Civil Claim

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 are dealt with by the District Courts. Claims above $250,000 are dealt with by the High Court.

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 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 on 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 of 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 include it in his Defence against the Plaintiff’s claim.

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 High Court. From the High Court, parties may appeal to the Court of Appeal unless the claims are prohibited from appeal under the law.