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Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide (ARCHIVE): Introduction to Singapore and its Legal System

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Rule of Law and Human Rights in Singapore


The Rule of Law & Human Rights in Singapore page on the Human Rights in ASEAN website (open access). 

The World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - Country Profile for Singapore (open access).

Update on the Rule of Law for Human Rights in ASEAN: The Path to Integration (2016) (open access) (published by the Human Rights Resource Centre). Includes a detailed chapter on Singapore.

Amnesty International's latest report on Singapore

US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016: Singapore

Bünte, Marco,'The Rule of law in Illiberal Contexts: Cambodia and Singapore as Exemplars' in:

Latest Legal News from Singapore Law Watch

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English Language Newspapers

The most popular and authoritative English language daily newspaper in Singapore is The Straits Times. This paper began in 1845.



Sources of Law

As with other common law counties, the primary sources of Singapore's laws are:

  • The Constitution (the Supreme Law)
  • Common Law (judicial precedent) and Equity
  • Legislation / Statutes
  • International law - treaties and customary international law

Muslim Law in personal legal matters, such as family law and inheritance, is also a source of law by virtue of the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) (Cap 3, 2009 Rev Ed). Muslim law is administered by the Syariah Court. 

For more information on the sources of Singapore's laws, see The Singapore Legal System by Eugene Tan and Gary Chan - on Singapore Law Watch (open access).

Singapore's Legal System & Legal History

Singapore has a common law legal system as a result of its colonial past as part of the British empire. The influence of the English common law on the development of Singapore law is generally more evident in certain traditional common law areas, such as contract, tort and equity, than in other statute-based areas such as criminal law and company law. Although judicial decisions from England and other Commonwealth jurisdictions are not binding on Singapore courts, Singapore has paid great deference to English decisions until recently, as Singapore departs from the decisions of English courts and develops its own local jurisprudence. Jurisdictions such as India and Australia have strongly influenced the approach and content of some of Singapore's statutes. 

For an excellent introduction to Singapore's legal system and its history, see The Singapore Legal System by Eugene Tan and Gary Chan - on Singapore Law Watch (open access).

See also The Singapore Legal System by Damien Chng and Jack Tsen-Ta Lee - on the ASEAN Law Association's Legal Systems in ASEAN: Singapore website (open access) (updated in 2018).

For a detailed history of the legal system, see:

Doing Business in Singapore

Other Research Guides

  • This powerpoint presentation was written by Charlotte Gill of the Li Ka Shing Law Library, Singapore Management University and has been made available with her permission.
  • Singapore Law - Research Guide from the Singapore Management University Library (open access)
  • Law in Singapore - Research Guide from the National University of Singapore Library (open access)
  • Foreign Law Guide - Singapore  (UniMelb staff & student access) provides access to legislation and other primary sources of law on multiple legal topics. It also contains bibliographies of useful secondary sources (books and articles) on these topics.

Guide Author

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

Country Information

Modern day Singapore was founded by the British. Singapore, together with Malacca and Penang, the two British settlements in the Malay Peninsula, became the Straits Settlements in 1826, under the control of British India. In 1946, Singapore became a Crown Colony. Self-government was attained in 1959. Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, but left the Federation in 1965 to become a sovereign, democratic and independent state.

Singapore is a constitutional republic with a secular government. Its structure of government is set out in the Constitution, and is based on the Westminster system of the United Kingdom. Governmental power is distributed across three branches of government: the legislature, executive and judiciary. Separation of powers is a basic feature of the Constitution. Singapore has an elected President as its head of state. Singapore’s legislature comprises of a single house of parliament.

Singapore is a multiracial and multi-religious society. The indigenous people of Singapore are Malays, who are recognised as such in the Constitution (Article 152(2)). The national language is Malay (Article 153A(2) of the Constitution), but the government recognises four official languages: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English (Article 153A(1) of the Constitution). The predominant languages spoken are English and Mandarin.

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

  • Singapore 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 Singapore, and includes information on freedoms, human rights, status of women etc.
  • The Human Rights in ASEAN Online Platform (open access) - Singapore country information.
  • The CIA World Factbook - Singapore (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.
  • Australian Government DFAT - Singapore Country Brief and Country Fact Sheet (open access).
  • Europa World Plus (UniMelb staff & student access) - use the Countries/Territories tab on the top menu to find information on Singapore.


See also: