Singapore, Republic of


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Legal Table
Legal Text

Legal System/History

 

(See also: Legal System/History of Malaysia)

Port of Singapore founded in 1819. Became part of British Straits Settlement in 1826. Small population of Malay fishermen; Chinese and Indian settlement began after British rule. Singapore gained independence in 1959, and joined Malaysia in 1963, but in two years withdrew from federation and became independent city-state.

Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966 establishes Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore (Singapore Islamic Council) to administer endowments and execute wills and Legal Committee of the Majlis to issue fatawa on any point of Muslim law. 1966 Act also contains more substantive provisions than its precursor. Women’s Charter 1961 superseded non-Muslim family law systems applied in Singapore; Muslims are exempted several provisions. Regular court system has jurisdiction over adoption, succession, and custody even for those married under Muslim law, and Muslim wife may choose to go to regular or shari'a judicial system to obtain maintenance order.

School(s) of Fiqh

Majority of Muslims are Shafi’i. Majority of population is Buddhist; other religions represented are Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.

Constitutional Status of Islam(ic Law)

Constitution adopted 3rd June 1959; amended in 1965. Based on pre-independence Singapore State Constitution. Contains number of provisions enshrining freedom of religion and prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion. Art. 153 under General Provisions states that "the Legislature shall by law make provision for regulating Muslim religious affairs and for constituting a Council to advise the President in matters relating to the Muslim religion".

Court System

Shari’a Court may hear and determine actions in which all parties are Muslims or in which parties involved were married under Muslim law (i.e., husband is Muslim). Court has jurisdiction over cases related to marriage, divorce, betrothal, nullity of marriage, judicial separation, division of property on divorce, payment of dowry, maintenance, and mut’a. Appeals lie with Appeal Board, comprised of three Muslims chosen by Registrar of Supreme Court from seven nominated by President annually. Appeal Board decisions final.

Relevant Legislation

Women’s Charter 1961 (no. 18/61) (Muslims exempted from several sections of Charter)

Guardians of Infants Act 1961 (no. 6/61)

Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966 (no. 27/66)

Notable Features

Marriage Age: minimum marriage age is 16 for both parties; kathi may permit marriage of girl under 16 who has attained puberty under certain circumstances

Marriage Guardianship: wali of bride may solemnise marriage according to Muslim law or may request kathi to do so; kathi may serve as wali where woman has none or where kathi rules that wali’s opposition to marriage is unreasonable; whether or not wali’s agreement is required for validity of marriage is governed according to classical school of law applicable to parties; in all cases, kathi is directed to make inquiry to determine that there are no lawful obstacles to marriage under either Muslim law or Administration of Muslim Law Act

Marriage Registration: obligatory; all Muslim marriages must be registered with a kathi or naib kathi; non-registration of marriage or divorce itself does not determine validity

Polygamy: permitted, but marriage by a man who is already married must be solemnised by kathi or with kathi’s written permission

Obedience/Maintenance: wife may apply to Court for maintenance order, although sums and time period for which she may claim for arrears are not specified

Talaq: registration of divorce and revocation of divorce is compulsory, and non-compliance is punishable by fine; kathi may not register divorce without an inquiry establishing both parties’ consent; kathi may not register any divorce by triple talaq and case must be referred to Shari’a Court

Judicial Divorce: wife may be granted judicial dissolution with husband’s consent and Court will grant application; if husband agrees to a khul’ Court will assess amount of compensation to be paid by wife according to means and status of both parties; wife may also apply for faskh on following grounds: husband’s failure to maintain for three months; imprisonment for three years or more; failure to perform marital obligations for one year; continued impotence since marriage; insanity or serious illness making cohabitation injurious to wife; and cruel treatment (defined as habitual physical abuse or cruelty of conduct, associating with women of ill-repute, obstruction of wife’s religious observance, unequal treatment of co-wives, cohabiting with another woman, or trying to force wife to lead immoral life); before making decree of divorce or nullity, Court may appoint arbitrators to attempt reconciliation.

Post-Divorce Maintenance/Financial Arrangements: divorced wife may apply to Court to order maintenance for her ‘idda; if woman is not entitled to maintenance under classical law, Court may grant maintenance in consideration of particular circumstances of the case

Child Custody and Guardianship: under terms of Guardianship of Infants Act 1961, Courts directed to consider religious and customary practices of community, but best interests of ward are paramount consideration; regular court system has jurisdiction over all custody cases

Succession: estate of Muslim dying intestate to be divided according to Islamic law "as modified by Malay custom" although this appears to be relic from pre-Independence legislation as commentators note that there have been no cases of such modification in city-state of Singapore; Muslims may only dispose of property by will in accordance with particular school of law to which they are subject

Notable Cases

 

Law/Case Reporting System

Case reporting through Singapore Law Journal (formerly in Malayan Law Journal). Law reporting through Official Gazette.

International Conventions (with Relevant Reservations)

CEDAW – accession 1995, with reservations to Arts. 2, 16, 11(1), 29(1), and general declaration regarding Singaporean citizenship and nationality laws

CRC – accession 1995, with declarations regarding interpretation of Arts. 12, 17, 19, 28(1a) 32 & 37, and general declaration regarding Singaporean citizenship and nationality laws

Legal History: [See also: Legal System/History of Malaysia]

The legal system is based on English common law. The Port of Singapore was founded in 1819 on the advice of Sir Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Java and employee of the British East India Company. It became part of the British Straits Settlement (of Malacca and Penang) in 1826. Singapore had a small population of Malay fishermen; Chinese and Indian settlement began after British rule. The Straits Settlements Act 1866 established Straits as a colony separate from British India, to be administered directly from London. In 1946, Singapore became a separate Crown Colony and Penang and Malacca joined the Malayan Union, which achieved independence as the Federation of Malaya in 1957. Singapore gained independence in 1959, and joined Malaysia (with Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo) in 1963, but it withdrew from the federation after two years and became an independent city-state.

Singaporean Muslim personal status is governed by the Muslims Ordinance 1957 covering registration, shari’a courts and property matters, and repealing the previous applicable Ordinance. It contained very limited substantive provisions, but the Ordinance did transfer jurisdiction over Muslim personal status to shari’a courts from the regular judiciary. It was replaced by the Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966, providing more detailed regulations. The 1966 Act established the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore (Singapore Islamic Council) to administer endowments and execute wills. The Council also has a Legal Committee consisting of the Mufti of Singapore, two other member of the Majlis and two non-members; the function of the Legal Committee is to issue fatawa on any point of Muslim law. The 1966 legislation also contains more substantive provisions than its predecessor. The Women’s Charter, passed in 1961, superseded non-Muslim family law systems applied in Singapore.  It imposed a monogamous marriage regime on all Singaporeans except Muslims, although Muslim men married to non-Muslims under the terms of the Women’s Charter are prohibited from marrying polygamously. Muslims are expressly exempted from certain provisions of the Women’s Charter, for example, those relating to solemnisation, nullity, divorce, etc. The regular court system has jurisdiction over adoption, succession, and custody even for those married under Muslim law, and the Muslim wife may choose to go to the regular or the shari'a judicial system to obtain maintenance order.

Schools of Fiqh: The majority of Muslims are Shafi’i. The majority of the population is Buddhist. The other religions represented are Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.

Constitutional Status of Islam(ic Law): The Constitution was adopted on 3rd June 1959 and amended in 1965 when the Malaysian State of Singapore left Malaysia. The Constitution contains a number of provisions enshrining freedom of religion and prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion. Article 153 under General Provisions states that "the Legislature shall by law make provision for regulating Muslim religious affairs and for constituting a Council to advise the President in matters relating to the Muslim religion".

Court System: There is one Shari’a Court in Singapore; it may hear and determine actions in which all parties are Muslims or in which the parties involved were married under Muslim law (i.e., the husband is Muslim). The Shari’a Court has jurisdiction over cases related to marriage, divorce, betrothal, nullity of marriage, judicial separation, division of property on divorce, payment of dowry, maintenance, and mut’a. Appeals from Shari’a Court decisions or decisions of kathis lie with an Appeal Board, comprised of three Muslims chosen by the Registrar of the Supreme Court from a panel of seven nominated by President annually.  Appeal Board decisions are final.

Notable Features: The minimum marriage age is 16 years for both parties. The kathi may permit the marriage of a girl under 16 years who has attained puberty under certain circumstances. The wali of the bride may solemnise her marriage according to Muslim law or may request the kathi to do so. The kathi may serve as wali where a woman has no wali or where he rules that the wali’s opposition to her marriage is unreasonable. Whether or not the wali’s agreement is required for validity of marriage is governed according to the classical position of the school of law applicable to the parties. In all cases, the kathi is directed to make an inquiry to determine that there are no lawful obstacles to a proposed marriage under either Muslim law or Administration of Muslim Law Act.

Marriage registration is obligatory.  All Muslim marriages must be registered with a kathi or naib kathi. The President of Singapore appoints a Registrar of Muslim Marriages and all kathis and naib kathis are Deputy Registrars. Non-registration of marriage or divorce does not determine validity.

Polygamy is permitted, but marriage by a man who is already married must be solemnised by a kathi or with the kathi’s written permission.  Also, as with any Muslim marriage, the kathi is directed to make such inquiry as is necessary to determine that there are no lawful obstacles to the proposed marriage. The wife may apply to the court for a maintenance order; the sums and time period for which arrears may be claimed is not specified.

The registration of divorce and revocation of divorce is compulsory, and non-compliance is punishable by a fine. A kathi may not register a divorce without an inquiry establishing both parties’ consent. A kathi may not register any divorce by triple talaq and the case must be referred to the Shari’a Court. The wife may be granted a judicial dissolution with her husband’s consent. If the husband agrees to a khul’, the Court will assess the amount of compensation to be paid by the wife according to the means and status of both parties. The wife may also apply for faskh on the following grounds: the husband’s failure to maintain for three months; his imprisonment for three years or more; failure to perform marital obligations for one year; continued impotence since marriage; insanity or serious illness making cohabitation injurious to his wife; and cruel treatment (defined as habitual physical abuse or cruelty of conduct, associating with women of ill-repute, obstruction of wife’s religious observance, unequal treatment of co-wives, cohabiting with another woman, or trying to force wife to lead immoral life). Before granting a decree of divorce or nullification, the Court may appoint arbitrators to attempt a reconciliation.

The divorced wife may apply to the Court to order maintenance for her ‘idda. If the former wife is not entitled to maintenance under classical law, the Court may award her maintenance in consideration of the particular circumstances of the case. Child custody is governed by the Guardians of Infants Act 1961. The Courts are directed to consider the religious and customary practices of the community to which the parties belong, but the best interests of the ward are of paramount consideration. The regular court system has jurisdiction over all custody cases.

The property of a Muslim dying intestate is to be divided according to Islamic law "as modified by Malay custom" although this appears to be a relic from pre-Independence legislation as commentators note that there have been no cases of such modification in the city-state of Singapore.  Muslims may only dispose of property by will in accordance with the particular school of law to which they are subject.

Notable Cases:

Law/Case Reporting System: Case reporting is through the Singapore Law Journal (formerly case reports were through the Malayan Law Journal). Law reporting is through the Official Gazette.  

International Conventions (with Relevant Reservations): Singapore acceded to the CEDAW in 1995 with a number of reservations. The reservation to Articles 2 and 6 states that due to the multi-racial and multi-religious composition of the population and the respect for freedom of religion, "Singapore reserves the right not to apply the provisions of (said) Articles where compliance with these provisions would be contrary to (minority communities’) religious or personal laws".

Singapore acceded to the CRC in 1995, with declarations regarding the interpretation of Articles 12, 17, 19, 28(1a) 32 and 37. The declaration relating to Articles 12 and 17 states that the exercise of children’s rights must be balanced against the authority of parents, schools, etc. and with regard for the customs and values of the multi-racial and multi-religious society of Singapore.  

Background and Sources: Cheang, "Women and the Law in Singapore," pp. 76-94 in Women and the Law, (Lawasia conference proceedings, 29 Apr. – 1 May 1986), LawAsia Human Rights Standing Committee; Hooker, Islamic Law in South-East Asia, Singapore, 1984; Kum, Family Law in Singapore: Cases and Commentary on the Women’s Charter and Family Law, Singapore, 1996; Mahmood, "Singapore" in Statutes of Personal Law in Islamic Countries, 2nd ed. New Delhi, 1995; Redden, "Singapore" in Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia, vol. 9, New York, 1990; Seng, Family Law, Singapore Law Series No. 2, Singapore, 1976.