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Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide (ARCHIVE): Introduction to Brunei & its Legal System

Image Source: Wikipedia

Doing Business in Brunei

Brunei Legal Research Guides

  • Library of Congress Guide to Law Online - Brunei

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This Research Guide is maintained by Robin Gardner, MLS Academic Research Service, Melbourne Law School. Please contact Robin at with corrections, suggestions or comments about the Guide.

The Legal System of Brunei

Brunei’s legal system is based on British common law, with a parallel Syariah law system for Muslims, which supersedes the common law system in areas such as family and property law. In 2014 Brunei became the first Southeast Asian country to adopt strict Syariah criminal law that applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, with the enactment of the Syariah Penal Code Order 2013 (not all provisions apply to non-Muslims, but s 3(1) of the Order states that unless otherwise expressly provided, the Order applies to Muslims and non-Muslims). 

Since 1962 Brunei has been ruled under a State of Emergency. The Sultan possesses wide legislative powers, and during a State of Emergency the Sultan may pass any legislation he deems expedient by Emergency Order. There is no judicial review of his actions.

See detailed information on the legal system in the Brunei pages of Legal Systems in ASEAN (open access) - from the ASEAN Law Association. There are chapters on: Historical Overview, Sources of Law, Government and the State, Legal Procedure and The Legal Profession. The information is a few years out of date, but is still a useful introduction.

Sources of Law

The laws of Brunei consist of the Constitution, Statutes and subsidiary legislation, Islamic laws, caselaw / judicial precedent, and the common law of England. 

See detailed information about the sources of law in the Sources of Law chapter of the Brunei pages of Legal Systems in ASEAN (open access).

Rule of Law & Human Rights

Update on the Rule of Law for Human Rights in ASEAN: The Path to Integration (2016)

  • includes a detailed Chapter on Brunei

See also the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Brunei page on the Human Rights in ASEAN website. 


General Country Information

The Islamic Sultanate of Negara Brunei Darussalam was a British protectorate from 1888 until World War II when the Japanese occupied Brunei. After the Japanese were defeated in 1945, the British resumed control. In 1959, Brunei became self-governing in a limited way according to the Constitution, with Britain remaining responsible for defense and foreign policy. In January 1984 Brunei became fully independent according to the 1979 Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation between the UK and Brunei. Since then, Brunei has become a constitutional monarchy with a ministerial government. Governance in Brunei is guided by the Constitution and the state ideology of Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB) or 'Malay Islamic Monarchy', which encapsulates norms of Malay culture, Islamic religion and the political framework under the monarchy.

Brunei is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world, and the only one in Asia. As absolute monarch, the Sultan of Brunei is thus the head of state and head of government. He is the King, Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Minister of Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is also the official ‘guardian and protector’ of Islam and tradition in Brunei.See the Prime Minister's Office website in English.

Brunei is a member of the Commonwealth.

The following resources include general country information - history, demographics, economy, politics and government etc.

  • Brunei Country Review (UniMelb staff & student access) - an annually updated detailed report of demographic, social, political, economic, business, investment, cultural and environmental information. This is an excellent an up to date source of information on the history and government of Brunei, and includes information on freedoms, human rights, status of women etc.
  • Europa World Plus (UniMelb staff & student access) - use the Countries/Territories tab on the top menu to find information on Brunei.
  • The CIA World Factbook -  Brunei (open access) includes country information in 80 topic areas under the main headings of Geography, People and Society, Economy, Energy, Communications, Military & Security, Transportation, and Transnational Issues.