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Jurisdiction and Legal Framework of Singapore

Two cornerstones that form the backbone of Singapore's legal system include jurisdiction and the legal framework. These two aspects play a vital role in maintaining the rule of law and ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and equally. Jurisdiction in Singapore involves courts' authority to resolve legal disputes, whereas the legal framework consists of laws, statutes, regulations, and case law governing civil and criminal matters. In unison, these factors create a solid foundation for conflict resolution, upholding rights, and fostering social peace.

The system of Singaporean law is based on English law and customs, as the nation was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles and served as a prominent trading harbor linking Europe with the Orient. After attaining self-governance in 1959 and subsequently separating from Malaysia in 1965 to establish itself as an independent state, Singapore has developed its own distinctive legal order that reflects the values held by its society and the dynamism of its economy. Yet, it has always had its share of British common law influence. As one of the members of the Commonwealth, Singapore follows distinct case laws including contract, tort, and restitution.

Over the last thirty years, Singapore has shown remarkable differences from England and Wales in the areas where local legislation predominates, especially corporate law, criminal law, and evidence. Singapore courts still adhere to English case law.

The legal structure of Singapore has been organized into the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. The Parliament is the people's representative who are elected by the people to enact laws in accordance with their will. Singapore is unique among parliamentary democracies in that it operates a hybrid system with elected and non-elected Members of Parliament (MPs). However, non-elected MPs are allowed only to vote on financial bills, non-constitutional issues, or motions of no-confidence against the government.

The President acts as the head of the Executive, and this organ encompasses the Cabinet, which in turn is accountable to the Parliament and formulates the government's overall policy. The members of the cabinet are selected from among deputies, which means there is not even an absolute separation of powers between branches such as Legislative and Executive.

The Prime Minister of Singapore holds the highest executive position in the country. Being in this role involves steering the government's daily tasks, charting policy direction, and ensuring coordination among ministries and agencies. Policy formulation, economic management, and social development are key areas where the Prime Minister takes a leading role in addressing Singapore's economic, social, and political needs.

Moreover, he represents Singapore as a nation globally by building diplomatic relations with other countries and pursuing its own interests in international forums. Not only does he guarantee the security of the country, but he also supports economic development with measures directed to improve social welfare issues as part of his commitment to the general welfare for all citizens of Singapore. As a result, the Prime Minister's strategies steer Singapore's path towards sustainability while simultaneously enhancing the quality of life for its people.

The structure of Singapore's political system ensures that the Prime Minister and the President operate in different domains with distinctive mandates. As the head of government, the Prime Minister controls executive powers and functions to lead the administration, formulate policies, and supervise governance. Conversely, the President holds executive powers as the head of state but is mainly ceremonial with some oversight responsibilities.

When it comes to the areas of public affairs and state functions, or the choice of key personnel for certain offices, both officials can be found in a common sphere of collaboration. Yet, on other occasions, their association is defined mostly by different institutional boundaries as well as mutual respect for their separate functions. The Prime Minister concentrates on the macro-level economic issues while the President takes care of safeguarding Singapore's financial resources, ensuring transparency in government administration, and the appointment of high-ranking officials.

As a whole, the relationship between the Prime Minister and President in Singapore features more balanced powers and work-sharing, as the two office bearers have different functions to maintain the functionality of the Singaporean government and continue to uphold Singapore's stability and development.

The legal system in Singapore is highly advanced and includes the State Courts as a tier in its structure. The State Courts consist of District Courts, Magistrates' Courts, Coroner's Court, Employment Claims and Small Claims Tribunals, and the Court Mediation Centre. District Courts are responsible for civil matters where disputed amounts are less than $250,000. Magistrates' Courts deal with cases under $60,000, while Small Claims Tribunals cater to those below $10,000.

Established in 2014, the Family Justice Courts (FJC) is an organization that functions as a specialized legal body for family-related affairs. The FJC comprises the Family Division at the High Court level, the Family Courts, and also the Youth Court. The FJC works by taking up cases like divorce, matrimonial and family violence, adoption and guardianship, youth court matters, applications for deputyship under the Mental Capacity Act, probate, and succession.

Singapore follows a two-tier judiciary system, where the Supreme Court represents the second level of judiciary. The Supreme Court is made up of two courts: the High Court and the Court of Appeal, with the latter being the highest court in Singapore. These two courts have jurisdiction over criminal cases and civil claims exceeding $250,000. The President appoints the Chief Justice, Judges of Appeal, Judges, and Judicial Commissioners based on recommendations from the Prime Minister.

The judicial system, though a well-implemented mechanism for delivering justice, has acknowledged its limitations in being the sole resolver of all disputes; it is recognized that alternatives to court litigation, including arbitration and mediation, need to be provided. Singapore is one of the world's most prominent international financial centers and has proactively recognized this business need to provide fast, inexpensive, and sometimes confidential alternative mechanisms for the resolution of business disputes.

It has successfully positioned itself as a major international arbitration hub like London or Hong Kong. Today, Singapore houses several large arbitration firms while also boasting state-of-the-art facilities offering comprehensive services catering to any arbitral needs.

Another possible approach to resolving the issue through mediation is to rely on lesser conflicts that do not involve life and death matters. The State Courts and the Singapore Mediation Centre are among the preferred channels for mediation. The government and industry also have other efforts which include the Maintenance of Parents Tribunal, Community Mediation Centre, and Consumers' Association of Singapore.

The legal system in Singapore has been critiqued in different spheres. The primary point of controversy involves the restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, with laws such as the Public Order Act and POFMA that are perceived to be curbing free expression, which stifles dissent. Critics argue that these legislations can be used against political opposition or anyone else with critical voices; they work to dilute democratic principles.

Another reason why the punishment system in this country is seen to be harsh and cruel is that for certain offenses, including caning and the death penalty for drug trafficking and other serious crimes, have been widely criticized by human rights organizations and international observers. These experts believe that such punishments not only violate human rights norms but also do not provide permanent solutions for crime prevention and resolution.

Also, it has been noted that some see the justice system as lacking impartiality, with doubts about the judiciary's neutrality when a case involves political government or politically delicate issues. The use of defamation suits and other legal tricks to keep critics and opposition under wraps has been criticized for curbing free speech as well as press freedom.

However, the advocates of Singapore's legal system are of the view that it plays a key role in the preservation of societal control, economic growth promotion, and law and order. They argue that legislation is an essential requirement for stability and prosperity in a vibrant and multiracial society.

In terms of jurisdiction and legal system, Singapore has earned a commendable reputation globally. It is especially recognized for its efficient handling of cases, transparent processes, and unwavering dedication to justice. The Singaporean courts exercise authority over civil, criminal, and commercial disputes with due regard to both codified statutes and precedents established in common law. In fact, the legal structure prevalent in Singapore does not fall short of its comprehensiveness since it embraces legislative acts, court decisions based on precedents, as well as administrative rules governing all aspects of life within society, including trade.

In Singapore, the judicial system is seen as one of the notable features that it possesses since it guarantees justice and equality for all regardless of any individual factors. The judiciary operates independently from the other two branches of government and is highly regarded by citizens; judges are appointed based on their qualifications and integrity. Legal procedures in Singapore are smooth because there are established rules of procedure to be followed and well-designed mechanisms for dispute resolution.

On the other hand, Singapore's legal system, as well as the regulatory landscape, also proves to be highly dynamic, ensuring continuous adaptation and innovation in addressing both local emerging concerns and worldwide challenges. This feature, combined with the country's judicial system being among the best worldwide and its well-developed infrastructure, unassailably positions it as a favorable investment haven for entrepreneurial ventures. In summary, Singapore's jurisdiction, along with its legal structure, are vital ingredients that contribute to global peace, prosperity, and maintaining world order.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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