2. Sources of law

a. General

The main sources of written law are legislation and subsidiary legislation. Singapore law also includes some common law and English statutes.

English law was formally received by Singapore in 1826 by virtue of the Second Charter of Justice. The common law of England (including the principles and rules of equity), so far as it was part of the law of Singapore immediately before 12 November 1993 (the date of commencement of Application of English Law Act 1993), forms part of the law of Singapore. English common law continues to be in force so far as it is applicable to the circumstances of Singapore and its people, and subject to such modifications as the circumstances may require.

Although the Singapore legal system is primarily common law based, Muslim law is also recognised by the state. Generally, the Administration of Muslim Law Act provides that in religious, matrimonial and succession matters, Muslim law is to be applied for Muslims who are domiciled in Singapore. Generally, the school of Muslim law applied is the Shafi’i school of thought.

b. Trusts

Singapore trust law is based substantially upon English trust principles. The principal statutes governing trusts include the Trustees Act (TA), the Trust Companies Act, the Public Trustee Act, the Settled Estates Act, the Charities Act, the Civil Law Act and the Business Trusts Act.

A company licensed for trust business under the Trust Companies Act may be appointed as the professional trustee of a trust. A company incorporated in Singapore or registered as a foreign company under the Companies Act may be licensed as a trust company if it fulfils requirements laid down in the Trust Companies Act. Under the Trust Companies (Exemption) Regulations 2005, private trust companies are permitted, provided that they use a licensed trust company, to conduct the necessary checks for the prevention of money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.

c. Property, estate and probate

Common law concepts relating to the ownership of property apply. The distinction between legal ownership and beneficial ownership of property is recognised. Generally, legal rights in property can be enforced against anyone, whereas equitable rights can be enforced against anyone except a bona fide purchaser of the legal estate for value without notice. The doctrine of notice is effected by legislation for certain types of property such as land, where there is in place a national system of registration for certain interests created in the property.

The Intestate Succession Act governs the distribution of the estate of a non-Muslim intestate decedent. The Inheritance (Family Provision) Act sets out the circumstances under which the spouse or children of a non-Muslim deceased (whether dying intestate or testate) may apply to the court for an order that the estate make provision for the maintenance of the spouse and children.

The process of and procedure for obtaining a grant of probate or letters of administration are set out in Probate and Administration Act and in the Rules of Court.

d. Taxation

The principal legislation governing taxation is the Income Tax Act.

© 2012 Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners