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28 November 2019

On 5 November 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 passed in Parliament.

The Bills aim to refine 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 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. Any originating case, appeal, stated case, or other recourse which presently lies to the existing High Court will continue to lie to the General Division. There will generally be no change to the current position on whether there is further recourse to an appellate court.

Allocation of appeals between Court of Appeal and Appellate Division of High Court

Appeals arising from a decision of the General Division will be allocated between the Appellate Division and the existing 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;
  • 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.

Transfer powers

To provide for flexibility, the Court of Appeal will have the powers to transfer to itself any appeal that has been made to the Appellate Division, and vice versa. This is notwithstanding the ordinary allocation of appeals.

Further appeals from Appellate Division to Court of Appeal

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.

To reflect the fact that the matter would have already been considered once on appeal by the Appellate Division, all such applications for leave will be assessed based on criteria that are more stringent than the usual common law principles that govern applications for leave to appeal against a decision of the General Division. Therefore, the Court of Appeal will consider granting leave only if the appeal raises a point of law of public importance. The Court of Appeal may also take into consideration other factors, such as whether a decision of the Court of Appeal, as the apex court, is required to resolve the point of law, and whether the interests of the administration of justice require the Court of Appeal’s consideration of the point of law.

Nomenclature changes to 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 power 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.

Reference materials

The following materials are available on the Parliament website www.parliament.gov.sg and the Ministry of Law website www.minlaw.gov.sg:

 

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