Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963. At this point, it would no longer be a colony of the British Empire. The legal system of Singapore would be affected by the enactment of the Malaysia Act 1963 (UK), the Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore (State Constitutions) Order in Council 1963, and the Malaysia Act 1963 (Malaysia).
From 1963 to 1965, many Malaysian laws including Federated Malay States Enactments as well Malayan Union and Federation of Malaya Ordinances were extended to Singapore. Some of these statutes continue to apply in Singapore today; however, they are generally modified from their original forms.
According to the Malaysia Act 1963, the judicial power of Malaysia would be vested in a Federal Court, a High Court in Malaya, a High Court in Borneo, and a High Court in Singapore. This new structure was made official on March 16, 1964, through the Courts of Judicature Act 1964. This act replaced the Supreme Court of the Colony of Singapore with the High Court of Malaysia in Singapore. The High Court in Singapore would now only have power within the territory of the State of Singapore.
When Singapore became independent in 1965, the country’s parliament left its judicial system unchanged. Therefore, between 1965 and 1969, the High Court in Singapore was part of the Malaysian court system. Then, in 1969, the constitution was amended to establish the Supreme Court of Singapore. It replaced the Federal Court of Malaysia with respect to Singapore. However, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London would retain its status as Singapore’s court of final appeal.
The Supreme Court would be divided into two divisions. Its upper division would consist of the Court of Appeal and the Court of Criminal Appeal, which would manage civil and criminal matters respectively. Its lower division would be the High Court of Singapore.
In 1993, the previous setup of a separate Court of Appeal and Court of Criminal Appeal was abolished. In their place a unified Court of Appeal was created to address both civil and criminal appeals alike. Judges of Appeal who were to be appointed to the Court of Appeal would no longer be required to engage in High Court work. The Chief Justice would serve as the President of the Court of Appeal. The establishment of the permanent Court of Appeal subsequently led the abolition of all appeals to the Privy Council; this ruling took effect on April 8, 1994. Today, the Court of Appeal of Singapore is the most important court in Singapore.
Singapore’s legal system was confirmed as independent through the repeal of Section 5 of the Civil Law Act on November 12, 1993, via the Application of English Law Act 1993. The Act aims to clarify the extent of the application of English laws in Singapore. It states that the common laws of England, including its principles and rules of equity, will continue to be part of Singapore law only if it is applicable to the circumstances of Singapore and its inhabitants. English laws in Singapore are subject modifications as circumstantially required. Only the English statutes listed in the Schedules to the Act in Singapore. No other English laws are part of Singapore law.