Singapore - Judicial system

Singapore's legal system is based on British common law. The judiciary includes the Supreme Court as well as subordinate courts. The subordinate courts are the magistrates' courts, trying civil and criminal offenses with maximum penalties of three years' imprisonment or a fine of S$60,000; the district courts, trying cases with maximum penalties of ten years' imprisonment or a fine of S$250,000; the juvenile courts, for offenders below the age of sixteen; the coroners' courts; and the small claims courts, which hear civil and commercial claims for sums of less than S$10,000. The Supreme Court is headed by a chief justice and was divided into the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Court of Criminal Appeal. The High Court has unlimited original jurisdiction in both criminal and civil cases but ordinarily chooses to exercise such jurisdictional authority only in major cases. In its appellate jurisdiction, the High Court hears criminal and civil appeals from the magistrates' and district courts. Appeal in a civil case heard by the High Court in its original jurisdiction was to the Court of Appeal, and in a criminal case, to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

In 1993 the former Court of Appeal (for civil cases) and the Court of Criminal Appeal were combined to form a single Court of Appeal. This reform was part of an overall plan to the eventual elimination of referrals to the Privy Council in London. All appeals to the Privy Council in London were eliminated in 1994.

The president appoints judges of the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the prime minister after consultation with the chief justice. A Legal Service Commission supervises and assigns the placement of the subordinate court judges and magistrates who have the status of civil servants; however, the president appoints subordinate courts judges on the recommendation of the chief justice. While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the judicial system provides a fair and efficient judicial process, the Internal Security Act allows the government to arrest, detain, and prosecute those who are deemed to threaten national security. Defendants have the right to be present at the trials, to have an attorney, and to confront witnesses against them.

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