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Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide: Cases

The Brunei Court System

There are two parallel justice systems: the common law system, presided over by the Supreme Court; and the Islamic system, presided over by the Syariah courts.

The Brunei pages of Legal Systems in ASEAN website (open access) include detailed information on:

  • The common law and Syariah court systems - in the Government and the State chapter - pages 3-13. 
  • Criminal and civil procedure in the common law and Syariah justice systems - in the Legal Procedure chapter.

Common Law System

The Brunei Judiciary Department was established in 2002. It is responsible for the administration of Brunei's judicial matters.

Stare Decisis

The Supreme Court of Brunei is guided by the Constitution and Statutes in executing their responsibility. However, where there are no written laws on a particular matter, the courts turn to principles of law found in case law or judicial precedent. The decisions of higher courts are binding on the lower courts. Decisions from superior courts in comparable jurisdictions are persuasive but not binding on Brunei courts.

The Court Hierarchy - lowest to highest is:

  • the Subordinate (Magistrates or Sultans) Courts
    • magistrates determine minor disputes and criminal matters
    • includes the Small Claims Tribunal - presided over by an adjudicator
  • the Intermediate Courts
    • judges determine criminal cases that do not carry a death sentence and less serious civil cases
    • includes the Commercial Court 
  • The Supreme Court, which comprises:
    • the High Court
      • unlimited original jurisdiction in both civil and criminal matters
      • appellate court hearing appeals from the lower courts
      • presided over by the Chief Justice and justices
    • the Court of Appeal
      • hears appeals from the High Court and Intermediate Court in civil and criminal matters
      • final court of appeal in criminal matters
      • presided over by the president and two commissioners
  • The Judicial Committee of the UK Privy Council - final court of appeal in civil matters

Judges are appointed by the Sultan for three-year terms.

More information on each of the Courts is available from the Judiciary website under the About Judiciary heading. This website also provides information and guides for litigants and practitioners, practice directions, cause lists, hearing dates, case status, statistics, speeches, and judgments.  

The Privy Council 

In civil matters, final recourse is available through the Judicial Committee of Privy Council (JCPC) in the UK. The right to appeal to the Privy Council in Criminal matters was abolished in 1995. 

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council Practice Direction 1 notes that:

  • 2.3 Brunei. An appeal lies from the Court of Appeal of Brunei to the Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan, in civil cases only. By agreement between Her Majesty and the Sultan these appeals are heard by the Judicial Committee who report their opinion to the Sultan instead of to Her Majesty.

The legislation governing appeals to the JCPC is:

 

Syariah courts have jurisdiction over civil matters such as Islamic family, property and inheritance, as well as criminal law. The Syariah Courts in Brunei consist of the Syariah Subordinate Courts, the Syariah High Court and the Syariah Appeal Court. The jurisdiction, powers, duties and authority of these courts is conferred by the Syariah Courts Act (Chapter 184).

Image: The Brunei Law and Courts Building in Bandar Seri Begawan

Image courtesy of judiciary.gov.bn

Finding Cases in English

The Brunei Judiciary Judgments website (open access) contains full text criminal and civil decisions 2009 to current (up to 2015 at present) from the:

  • Court of Appeal
  • High Court
  • Intermediate Court 
  • Magistrates Court (list of cases only - no full text)

The Judgments database can also be searched.

 

LexisNexisAu (UniMelb staff & student access) contains decisions from the Brunei High Court and Court of Appeal on:

 

Privy Council decisions on appeal from the Brunei Court of Appeal

There have been only a handful of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council - the earliest we could find was in 1950, and the latest in 2007. JCPC decisions are available on:   

 

Decisions from Shariah Courts

These decisions do not seem to be publicly available.