First steps in proposed restructuring of Singapore Supreme Court underway with introduction of amendment Bills
30 October 2019
On 7 October 2019, the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, the Judges’ Remuneration (Amendment) Bill and the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill (collectively, “Bills”) were introduced for first reading in Parliament.
In a press release issued on the same day, the Ministry of Law stated that the Bills are aimed at refining Singapore’s judicial system to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of court processes. A key proposal is the restructuring of the Supreme Court to establish a new Appellate Division of the High Court (“Appellate Division”). Under this framework, appeals will be allocated between the existing Court of Appeal and the new Appellate Division. This will help improve the deployment of limited judicial resources and manage the increasing quantity and complexity of the appeals caseload, thus maintaining high standards of access to justice and quality of justice.
Restructuring of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court will continue to comprise the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The High Court will be restructured into the General Division of the High Court (“General Division”) and the new Appellate Division. The Court of Appeal will continue to be the apex court.
The existing High Court, which includes the Singapore International Commercial Court (“SICC”) and the Family Division of the High Court, will be renamed the General Division of the High Court.
Allocation of appeals between the Court of Appeal and the Appellate Division of the High Court
Appeals arising from a decision of the General Division will be distributed between the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeal.
The Appellate Division will have no criminal jurisdiction. Instead, the Court of Appeal will continue to hear all criminal appeals. The Court of Appeal will also hear appeals made to the Court of Appeal under written law, and prescribed categories of civil appeals. These categories include:
- appeals arising from cases relating to constitutional or administrative law;
- appeals arising from cases relating to contempt of court;
- appeals arising from cases relating to the law of arbitration;
- appeals arising from cases relating to the insolvency, restructuring or dissolution of a corporation, limited liability partnership or sub-fund of a variable capital company;
- appeals arising from cases relating to the law of patents;
- appeals against a decision of the SICC; and
- appeals under certain Acts.
All other appeals will be heard by the Appellate Division. The Appellate Division will ordinarily sit in a panel of three Judges, but a smaller coram may hear the application or appeal in specific prescribed situations.
Where a civil appeal has been heard by the Appellate Division, any further appeal against the decision of the Appellate Division may only be brought with the leave of the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal will have the powers to transfer civil appeals between the two appellate courts. This ensures that the Court of Appeal can decide points of law of public importance that may arise in any particular case.
Nomenclature changes to the designation of Judges
A new class of Judges, designated as “Judges of the Appellate Division”, will sit in the new Appellate Division. The permanent judges who will sit in the Court of Appeal will be designated as “Justices of the Court of Appeal” (renamed from “Judges of Appeal”). The Judges who will sit in the General Division will continue to be known as “Judges of the High Court”. These three classes of Judges will collectively be known as “Supreme Court Judges”.
Other amendments to improve efficiency and flexibility of court processes
The Bills will also introduce amendments to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of court processes, with a view to ensuring the timely disposal of appeals and lowering the overall cost of litigation.
First, the Court of Appeal and the Appellate Division will have the powers to decide prescribed categories of appeals without hearing oral arguments, if every party to the appeal consents. In addition, parties may consent for appeals before the Appellate Division to: (a) be decided by a two-Judge coram of the Appellate Division (instead of a full three-Judge coram), subject to the approval of the Court; and (b) be decided by the Appellate Division without hearing oral arguments.
Secondly, in all cases where leave is required to appeal against a decision of the General Division, the leave application will be heard directly by the relevant appellate court, whose decision will be final.
The following Bills are available on the Singapore Parliament website www.parliament.gov.sg:
- Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill
- Judges’ Remuneration (Amendment) Bill
- Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill
The following materials are available on the Ministry of Law website www.mlaw.gov.sg:
- Press release: Legislative Changes to Enhance Court Processes
- Annex A: Establishing the Appellate Division of the High Court
- Annex B: Civil Appeals to Be Made to the Court of Appeal
- Annex C: New Distribution of Appeals