28 January 2021
The Supreme Court of Singapore, which comprises the Court of Appeal and the High Court, has restructured its High Court into the General Division of the High Court (“General Division”) and the Appellate Division of the High Court (“Appellate Division”). These changes were implemented by way of amendments introduced by the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 2019, the Judges’ Remuneration (Amendment) Act 2019 and the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Act 2019 which took effect on 2 January 2021.
With the new framework, appeals are now 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, while maintaining high standards of access to justice and quality of justice.
Other amendments to improve the efficiency and flexibility of court processes have also entered into force.
Restructuring of Supreme Court
The Supreme Court continues to consist of the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The Court of Appeal remains as the apex court.
The High Court, which includes the Singapore International Commercial Court (“SICC”) and the Family Division of the High Court, has been renamed the General Division of the High Court. The General Division has all the jurisdiction and powers that were previously allocated to the High Court.
Allocation of appeals between Court of Appeal and Appellate Division of High Court
Appeals arising from a decision of the General Division are now allocated between the Appellate Division and the existing Court of Appeal.
The Appellate Division has 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.
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.
To provide for flexibility, the Court of Appeal has 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. The Court of Appeal may consider granting leave only if the appeal raises a point of law of public importance.
Nomenclature changes to designation of Judges
A new class of Judges, designated as “Judges of the Appellate Division”, now sits in the new Appellate Division. The permanent judges who sit in the Court of Appeal are now designated as “Justices of the Court of Appeal” (renamed from “Judges of Appeal”). The Judges who sit in the General Division continue to be known as “Judges of the High Court”. These three classes of Judges are collectively known as “Supreme Court Judges”.
Other amendments to improve efficiency and flexibility of court processes
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 have also taken effect.
First, the Court of Appeal and the Appellate Division now 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 materials are available on the Singapore Statutes Online website sso.agc.gov.sg: