Overview of the Law in Singapore | ExpatWoman.com

Overview of the Law in Singapore

As an expat, it's important to familiarise yourself with the local laws. Here's an overview of what you should know.

Posted on

3 February 2014

Last updated on 13 August 2017
Overview of the Law in Singapore

The legal system of Singapore is based on the English common law system. Major areas of law – particularly administrative law, contract law, equity and trust law, property law and tort law – are largely judge-made, though certain aspects have now been modified to some extent by statutes. However, other areas of law, such as criminal law, company law and family law, are almost completely statutory in nature.

Apart from referring to relevant Singaporean cases, judges continue to refer to English case law where the issues pertain to a traditional common-law area of law, or involve the interpretation of Singaporean statutes based on English enactments or English statutes applicable in Singapore. These days, there is also a greater tendency to consider decisions of important Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Australia and Canada, particularly if they take a different approach from English law.

Certain Singapore statutes are not based on English enactments but on legislation from other jurisdictions. In such situations, court decisions from those jurisdictions on the original legislation are often examined. Thus, Indian law is sometimes consulted in the interpretation of the Evidence Act (Cap. 97, 1997 Rev. Ed.) and the Penal Code (Cap. 224, 2008 Rev. Ed.) which were based on Indian statutes.

On the other hand, where the interpretation of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev. Ed., 1999 Reprint) is concerned, courts remain reluctant to take into account foreign legal materials on the basis that a constitution should primarily be interpreted within its own four walls rather than in the light of analogies from other jurisdictions; and because economic, political, social and other conditions in foreign countries are perceived to be different.

Certain laws such as the Internal Security Act (Cap. 143) (which authorizes detention without trial in certain circumstances) and the Societies Act (Cap. 311) (which regulates the formation of associations) that were enacted during British rule in Singapore remain in the statute book, and both corporal and capital punishment are still in use.