The Judiciary is one of three branches of government in Singapore, namely, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. By virtue of Article 93 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, judicial power in Singapore is vested in the Supreme Court, State Courts and Family Justice Courts. The Honourable the Chief Justice is the head of the Judiciary.
The State Courts, as constituted by the State Courts Act (Cap 321), comprise the District Courts, Magistrates’ Courts, Coroners’ Courts, Small Claims Tribunals and Employment Claims Tribunals. Both District Courts and Magistrates’ Courts oversee criminal and civil matters.
Each year, the State Courts handle about 90 per cent of the overall caseload in Singapore and about 99 per cent of the total criminal caseload.
District Courts hear civil cases where the value of the claim is more than $60,000 and up to $250,000, or up to $500,000 for road traffic accident claims or claims for personal injuries arising out of industrial accidents. For criminal matters, the District Courts hear cases where the maximum imprisonment term does not exceed 10 years, or which are punishable with a fine only.
Magistrates’ Courts hear civil cases involving claims not exceeding $60,000. For criminal matters, Magistrates’ Courts hear cases where the maximum imprisonment term does not exceed 5 years, or which are punishable with a fine only.
The Coroners’ Courts conduct inquiries into sudden or unnatural deaths or where the cause of death is unknown.
The Small Claims Tribunals hear claims not exceeding $20,000, or $30,000 if both parties consent in writing, for disputes arising from a contract for the sale of goods, provision of services, an unfair practice relating to a hire-purchase agreement, a tort in respect of damage caused to property, certain statutory claims, or a contract relating to a lease of residential premises not exceeding 2 years.
• Employment Claims Tribunals
The Employment Claims Tribunals hear salary-related claims and wrongful dismissal claims, not exceeding $20,000, or $30,000 for tripartite-mediated disputes.
• Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals
The Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals hear claims not exceeding $20,000 for disputes between neighbours concerning the tort of interference with enjoyment or use of place of residence.
Some of the District Courts and Magistrates’ Courts are also designated as specialised courts, including the Community Court, Traffic Court and Night Courts.
The Community Court hears criminal cases where there may be underlying causes of criminality which need to be addressed. A problem-solving approach that combines criminal justice and community resources is employed. In addition to the principles of deterrence and retribution, the Community Court is committed to the dual principles of rehabilitation and prevention. The types of cases it hears include:
- Youthful offenders (aged 16 to below 21)
- Offenders with mental illness and special needs
- Selected cases involving offenders aged 65 years and above
- Abuse and cruelty to animals
- Cases which impact on race relations issues
The Traffic Court primarily hears and tries traffic offences. The types of cases that are dealt with by the Traffic Court include:
- fresh traffic arrest cases (such as drink driving)
- Traffic Police summonses/notices where there are no offers of composition
- LTA summonses / notices where there are no offers of composition
It is both a mentions court as well as a trial court. As a mentions court, the Traffic Court hears applications for bail, remand and adjournments, and manages the cases that come before the Traffic Court.
The Night Courts deal with regulatory and traffic offences. There are two night courts in State Courts, each hearing a specific profile of cases:
- Summonses and notices issued by the various government departments, such as the Housing and Development Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Central Provident Fund Board, and Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority
- Road traffic offences brought to court by the Traffic Police and Land Transport Authority
The Night Courts’ operating hours are from 6 pm onwards on Mondays to Thursdays.