State Courts



The Singapore judiciary system consists of two tiers: the Supreme Court and the State Courts (known as Subordinate Courts until 2014). Located at 1 Havelock Square, the State Courts consist of the District Courts, Magistrates’ Courts, Family Courts and various specialised courts. These courts hear both civil and criminal cases that do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Over 95 percent of all civil, criminal, family and juvenile cases in Singapore are heard in the State Courts.1

History
The British introduced to Singapore the judiciary and court system based on the English Common Law when Singapore became part of the Straits Settlements in the 19th century.2 In 1877, the first building was allocated to court work. Located on South Bridge Road, the building was known at various times as the Police Courts, the Magistrates’ Courts as well as the Criminal District and Police Courts. The Civil District Courts, on the other hand, operated out of the Old Parliament House during the 1900s.3


In the 1950s and 1960s, various courts operated from different locations based on their functions. The Juvenile Court operated from the Chinese Secretariat Building on Havelock Road, the Civil District Courts at Empress Place, the Seventh and Eighth Magistrates’ Courts along New Bridge Road, the Ninth and Tenth Magistrates’ Courts at the former Sepoy Lines Police Station, and the Coroner’s Court along Outram Road.4

Centralisation at Havelock Square Complex
In 1972, the Singapore government called for tenders for the construction of the Subordinate Courts’ Havelock Square Complex to centralise all the courthouses operating from different locations.5 Construction began on 22 January 1973 and cost S$13 million.6 The building was completed in 1975. Initially built for 26 courtrooms, the complex saw an increase in the number of courtrooms as the courts’ jurisdiction broadened over the years.7


However, two divisions did not move to the Havelock Square Complex until much later: the Family Justice Division on Paterson Road, and the Small Claims Tribunal in Apollo Centre. The former relocated to the new Family and Juvenile Court Building at 3 Havelock Square only in 2001, while the latter moved to the Havelock Square Complex in 2005. Following these relocations, the State Courts’ operations became centralised at Havelock Square.8

In 2013, the Subordinate Courts complex, also known as “The Octagon”, gained conservation status.9

Renaming and new premises
On 7 March 2014, the Subordinate Courts were renamed State Courts. A new corporate logo was unveiled, replacing the one created in 1997. A new State Courts complex was announced, and the ground-breaking ceremony was held on 28 May 2014.10 The new compound would accommodate at least 60 courtrooms and more than 50 hearing chambers.11 Slated to be completed in 2020, the new State Courts complex will house the Family Justice Courts from 2023.12


Court governance and administration
There are six main operational units in the State Courts: Strategic Planning and Technology; Corporate Services; Civil Justice; Community Justice and Tribunals; Criminal Justice; and Centre for Dispute Resolution.13


The presiding judge of the State Courts – previously known as senior district judge and then chief district judge – heads the State Courts, and is responsible for the management of the courts.14 He is assisted by the deputy presiding judge, principal district judges, senior judicial officers and senior court administrators.15

In 1992, the implementation of night courts during weekdays raised questions about the long working hours of court staff.16 However, the organisation was recognised for its commitment to developing its staff: The Subordinate Courts, as it was known then, was awarded the People Developer Standard in 1999, and was recertified in 2002 and 2006. It also won the Singapore Quality Award for institutionalising business excellence in 2006 and the Singapore Quality Award with Special Commendation in 2011.17 In 2014, the courts received the Work-Life Excellence Award 2014 for enhancing the work-life harmony of its employees.18

Court jurisdiction
Each division of the State Courts has a different jurisdiction covering a variety of cases.19 Additionally, in 1993, the Subordinate Courts (Amendment) Bill 1993 was passed, empowering the Subordinate Courts to refer any constitutional matter before it to the High Court.20


Civil Justice
The Civil Justice Division comprises the Civil Trial Courts, Civil Registry and Baliffs sections.21 For civil matters, District Courts deal with civil claims not exceeding S$250,000 in value and the Magistrates’ Courts hear cases for the recovery of sums not exceeding S$60,000.22 District Courts are also given leave to deal with probate matters where the value of the deceased’s estate does not exceed S$3 million.23 The Civil Registry manages the administrative matters of the Civil Justice Division, while the Bailiffs Section enforces the judgments and orders of cases under the jurisdiction of the State Courts.24


Criminal Justice

This division with criminal matters. District Courts can try offences where the maximum jail sentence does not exceed 10 years or are punishable with a fine only, while a Magistrate’s Court can try offences where the maximum jail sentence does not exceed three years or which are punishable with a fine only.25 The Criminal Justice Division also includes the Coroner’s Court, which holds inquiries to ascertain the cause of a person’s death and whether anyone is criminally responsible.26 Also under this division is the Community Court, which was established in 2006 to deal with special cases such as offenders with mental disabilities, animal abusers, cases that affect race relations, and attempted suicides. It explores sentencing alternatives and community-based sanctions for offenders.27

Family Justice Courts
In the past, family matters and matters relating to children and young persons were handled by the Family and Juvenile Justice Division of the State Courts.28 In 2014, however, the court system undertook a restructuring, and the Family Justice Courts were established. Matters such as divorce matters, family violence cases, adoption and guardianship cases, Youth Court cases and probate matters are longer under the purview of the State Courts, but are heard by the Family Justice Courts. The Family Justice Courts are managed by the presiding judge of the Family Justice Courts.29


Centre for Dispute Resolution
The State Courts Centre for Dispute Resolution was launched on 4 March 2015. It built on the existing alternative dispute resolution services available throughout the various courts. This new division consolidated services, such as the Primary Dispute Resolution Centre and the mediation services available under the Crime Registry, under one umbrella.30

Community Justice and Tribunals
The Community Justice and Tribunals Division was established on 24 April 2015. It oversees the newly formed Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals, the existing Small Claims Tribunals and harassment cases. The Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal, set up on 1 October 2015, hears cases involving neighbourly disputes through informal, low-cost and judge-led proceedings.31 Established in 1985, the Small Claims Tribunal is empowered to hear claims not exceeding S$10,000. It provides a cheap and fast alternative for resolving matters between consumers and suppliers.32

Community outreach
Since 1993, the State Courts have implemented many programmes that aim to enhance community access to justice. A public-relations department was created in 1993, along with a telephone enquiry service.33 Other administrative measures introduced included the publication of a newsletter, Judicare, as well as providing a court concierge service in which personal one-on-one attention is given to court users.34 In 2010, Helping to Empower Litigants in Person Centres were launched. These centres provide free assistance to litigants who might have enquiries on the various court procedural rules.35


The State Courts have also reached out to specific special-interest groups such as lawyers, students and journalists. For instance, a series of lectures on different areas of law was organised for the legal fraternity.36 The courts have also partnered with law schools in the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Management University to give student volunteers an opportunity to assist litigants at the Family Court, the Small Claims Tribunal and the Crime Registry.37

The Peer Group Advisors Programme allows students in selected secondary schools to sit in for court proceedings and partake in discussions with the Juvenile Court judge in chambers before judgment is passed. This preventative programme helps raise awareness of juvenile delinquency and issues relevant to teenagers.38

In 2006, the courts held an internship programme with Singapore Press Holdings to provide interns with insights into issues involving the administration of justice.39 In addition, the courts offer mediation and counselling to dysfunctional families.40

The courts have also reached out to individuals who might not be able to afford legal representation. The Primary Justice Project by the Community Justice Centre provides basic legal advice to litigants involved in civil claims below S$60,000 and divorces that are close to being settled for a limited fee.41

Technological innovation
The courts have also used technology extensively.42 In 1996, it became the first judicial organisation in the region to introduce a fully computerised file-tracking and information management system of criminal cases known as the Singapore Case Recording and Information Management System (SCRIMS).43 The system was enhanced over the years.44 In 2015, SCRIMS was replaced by the Integrated Criminal Case Filing and Management System. Besides tracking criminal and youth court cases from the moment they are filed, the system also allows lawyers and law enforcement agencies to electronically file documents that used to be submitted in hard copy. Warrants and other court orders can also be generated automatically and viewed online by judges. Judges need only to sign the orders via digital signatures.45 This new system received the FutureGov Singapore Award in the E-Government category in 2015.46

The courts have also experimented with the use of technologies, such as the use of 3G mobile devices, to allow lawyers to conduct short court proceedings and a virtual court.47 By 2011, digital audio recording and transcription facilities were available at all the courts.48 The Pre-Trial Conference Centre features video-link facilities and the Centre for Dispute Resolution has institutionalised the Skype mediation scheme to accommodate parties residing overseas.49 New automated payments kiosks were also set up in the State Courts for users to make payments for bails, court fees or fines.50



Authors
Faizah bte Zakaria & Seow Peck Ngiam




References
1. Goh, Y. (2015). Law. Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies; Straits Times Press, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 349.5957 GOH)
2. Chan, G. K. Y, & Lee, J. T-T. (2015). The legal system of Singapore: Institutions, principles and practices. Singapore: LexisNexis, pp.1–2. (Call no.: RSING 349.5957 CHA)
3. State Courts Singapore. (2017, April 20). History of State Courts. Retrieved 2017, June 20 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/History-of-State-Courts.aspx
4. State Courts Singapore. (2017, April 20). History of State Courts. Retrieved 2017, June 20 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/History-of-State-Courts.aspx
5. Courts complex. (1972, October 23). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; State Courts Singapore. (2017, April 20). History of State Courts. Retrieved 2017, June 20 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/History-of-State-Courts.aspx
6. $13m courts. (1973, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. State Courts Singapore. (2017, April, 20). History of State Courts. Retrieved 2017, June 20 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/History-of-State-Courts.aspx; Hwang, T. F. (1987, February 3). S’pore could do with more courts. The Straits Times, p. 13; Tan, O. B. (1992, October 28). Coming soon: More subordinate courts. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. State Courts Singapore. (2017, April 20). History of State Courts. Retrieved 2017, June 20 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/History-of-State-Courts.aspx
9. Amir Hussain. (2016, February 29). $450 million contract for new State Courts Towers awarded to Samsung C&T Corporation. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
10. Lim, Y. L. (2014, May 29). New court complex to be three times as big. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; State Courts Singapore. (2017, April 20). History of State Courts. Retrieved 2017, June 20 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/History-of-State-Courts.aspx
11. State Courts Singapore. (2017, April 20). History of State Courts. Retrieved 2017, June 20 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/History-of-State-Courts.aspx
12. Amir Hussain. (2016, February 29). $450 million contract for new State Courts Towers awarded to Samsung C&T Corporation. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
13. State Courts Singapore. (2015, August 20). Organisation chart. Retrieved 2016, November 26 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Documents/Org%20Chart%20-%2027%20August%202015%20(amended).pdf
14. State Courts Singapore. (2015, October 19). Court governance and administration. Retrieved 2016, November 26 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/CourtGovernanceandAdministration.aspx; State Courts Singapore. (2010, March 29). Registrar’s Circular No 1 of 2010 Notification of changes in designations. Retrieved 2016, November 26 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Lawyer/Documents/RC1of2010.pdf
15. State Courts Singapore. (2015, October 19). Court governance and administration. Retrieved 2016, November 26 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Pages/CourtGovernanceandAdministration.aspx
16. Whatever happened to 9 to 5? (1992, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. State Courts Singapore. (2007). The new phases of justice: Annual report 2006. Retrieved 2016, November 26 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2006.pdf; State Courts Singapore. (2012). Greater heights, new horizons: Annual report 2011. Retrieved 2016, November 29 from State Courts of Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2011.pdf
18. State Courts Singapore. (2015). A new chapter for our judiciary: Annual report 2014. Retrieved 2016, November 28 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2014.pdf
19. State Courts Singapore. (2015, August 20). Organisation chart. Retrieved 2016, November 26 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Documents/Org%20Chart%20-%2027%20August%202015%20(amended).pdf
20. Ahmad Osman, et al. (1993, April 14). Subordinate Courts jurisdiction increased. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. State Courts Singapore. (2015, August 20). Organisation chart. Retrieved 2016, November 26 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/AboutStateCourts/Documents/Org%20Chart%20-%2027%20August%202015%20(amended).pdf
22. Attorney-General’s Chambers. (2014, March 7). State Courts Act (Chapter 321). Retrieved 2016, November 27 from Singapore Statues Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3Af8e76c1b-e100-4e4f-953c-f046a7af852f%20%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0;whole=yes#pr19-he-
23. Ahmad Osman, et al. (1993, April 14). Subordinate Courts jurisdiction increased. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. State Courts Singapore. (2016, November 16). Overview of civil justice process. Retrieved 2016, November 27 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/CivilCase/Pages/Overview-of-civil-justice-process.aspx
25. State Courts Singapore. (2016, November 23). Overview of criminal justice process. Retrieved 2016, November 27 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/CriminalCase/Pages/Profile.aspx
26. State Courts Singapore. (2016, November 23). Coroner’s Court. Retrieved 2016, November 27 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/CriminalCase/Pages/Coroner's-Court.aspx
27. State Courts Singapore. (2014, July). Community Court. Retrieved from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/CriminalCase/Documents/Community%20Court.pdf
28. State Courts Singapore. (2014). Renewing Our Commitment to Justice: Annual Report 2013. Retrieved 2016, November 27 from State Courts of Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/Annual%20Report%202013%20(Full%20length%20-%20HTML).pdf
29. Family Justice Courts Singapore. (2016, May 12). Overview. Retrieved 2017, June 20 from Family Justice Courts Singapore website: https://www.familyjusticecourts.gov.sg/AboutFamilyJusticeCourts/Pages/Overview.aspx
30. State Courts Singapore. (2016). Delivering justice to the community: Annual report 2015. Retrieved 2016, November 27 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/Annual%20Report%202015%20-%20Delivering%20Justice%20to%20the%20Community.pdf
31. State Courts Singapore. (2016). Delivering justice to the community: Annual report 2015. Retrieved 2016, November 27 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/Annual%20Report%202015%20-%20Delivering%20Justice%20to%20the%20Community.pdf
32. State Courts Singapore. (2016, October 21). About Small Claims Tribunals. Retrieved 2016, November 27 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/SmallClaims/Pages/GeneralInformation.aspx
33. Courting of the media? (1993, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 20 Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Fernandez, W. (1993, April 18). Up to four months’ wait at most for hearings. The Straits Times, p. 20; The judiciary makes news. (1993, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 24; Tan, H. Y. (2003, September 21). Skip the question if you can read it. The Straits Times, p. 27; Lee, J. (2006, October 17). Justice is served – efficiently but with a human touch. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. State Courts Singapore. (2010). Serving society: Annual report 2009. Retrieved 2016, November 28 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2009.pdf
36. State Courts Singapore. (2007). The new phases of justice: Annual report 2006. Retrieved 2016, November 28 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2006.pdf
37. State Courts Singapore. (2011). Access to quality justice: Annual report 2010. Retrieved 2016, November 28 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2010.pdf
38. State Courts Singapore. (2001, April). Study of the rippling effect of the Peer Advisors Programme. Retrieved 2016, November 28 from State Courts Singapore website: https://statecourts.gov.sg/TBD/Documents/issue27.pdf
39. State Courts Singapore. (2007). The new phases of justice: Annual report 2006. Retrieved 2016, November 28 from State Courts of Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2006.pdf
40. Lee, J. (2006, October 17). Justice is served – efficiently but with a human touch. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, G. K. Y., & Lee, J. T-T. (2015). The legal system of Singapore: Institutions, principles and practices. Singapore: LexisNexis, p. 165. (Call no: RSING 349.5957 CHA)
41. Chan, G. K. Y., & Lee, J. T-T. (2015). The legal system of Singapore: Institutions, principles and practices. Singapore: LexisNexis, p. 177. (Call no.: RSING 349.5957 CHA)
42. Justice is served – efficiently but with a human touch. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Criminal cases database. (1996, March 4). The Straits Times, p. 22; Chan, G. K. Y., & Lee, J. T-T. (2015). The legal system of Singapore: Institutions, principles and practices. Singapore: LexisNexis, p. 177. (Call no.: RSING 349.5957 CHA)
44. State Courts Singapore. (2007). The new phases of justice: Annual report 2006. Retrieved 2016, November 28 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2006.pdf
45. Hussain, A. (2015, February 6). State Courts implement new computer system to save time and resources. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
46. State Courts conferred two awards by FutureGov Singapore in annual ceremony. (2015, April 7). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

47. Lee, J. (2006, October 17). Justice is served – efficiently but with a human touch. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
48. State Courts Singapore. (2012). Greater heights, new horizons: Annual report 2011. Retrieved 2016, November 29 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/AnnualReport2011.pdf
49. State Courts Singapore. (2016). Delivering justice to the community: Annual report 2015. Retrieved 2016, November 27 from State Courts Singapore website: https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/Resources/Documents/Annual%20Report%202015%20-%20Delivering%20Justice%20to%20the%20Community.pdf
50. New automated kiosks at the State Courts for payment of fines, fees. (2016, September 3). Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg



Further resources
Chan, H. H. M. (1995). The legal system of Singapore. Singapore: Butterworth Asia.

(Call no.: RSING 349.5957 CHA)

Magnus, R., et al. (Eds.). (2003). Rebuilding lives, restoring relationships: Juvenile justice and the community. Singapore: Eastern University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 364.36095957 REB)

Singapore Subordinate Courts. (2007). Serving justice: Subordinate Courts 2006 Singapore Quality Award winner. Singapore: Subordinate Courts.
(Call no.: RSING 347.5957 SIN)



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
District courts--Singapore
Politics and Government>>Law
Courts--Singapore
Law and government
Procedure (Law)--Singapore
Law