Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

The Training, Appointment, and Supervision of Islamic Judges in Singapore

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

The Training, Appointment, and Supervision of Islamic Judges in Singapore

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

The Islamic judicial system in Singapore is a product of the region's dynamic history. The current set of Islamic legal institutions dates from the period when Singapore and neighboring Malaysia were both subject to British rule.1 Singapore became independent from Malaysia in 1965,2 and Islamic institutions have followed different lines of development since then. Like Malaysia, Singapore has a separate Syariah3 court that exercises a limited jurisdiction over the country's Muslim population.4 Singapore's Syariah Court, however, operates differently from Malaysia's.

This article describes the composition and training of the Singaporean Islamic judiciary. First, though, is a brief introduction to the background of Syariah Court and its place in the history and development of the Singaporean legal system will be presented to provide context for the discussion.

II. The Constitution of the Islamic Legal System in Singapore

Singapore's legal system dates back to the British occupation, when the English common law was introduced to the region.5 One notable feature of the region's legal system, also rooted in British practices, is the exclusion of religion and custom from the jurisdiction of the courts.6 This meant that the enforcement of Islamic law and Malay adat were a matter to be dealt with exclusively under the authority of the Malay sultans.7

Under the Charter of Justice of 1855, all inhabitants of Singapore, including Muslims, were made subject to the common law and the jurisdiction of British courts.

In 1880, the Mahommedan Marriage Ordinance provided for the registration of Muslim marriages and divorces.8 An amendment in 1957 restyled the law as the Muslims' Ordinance and also created a new Syariah Court.9 After Singapore's independence, the Muslims' Ordinance was replaced in 1966 by the Administration of Muslim Law Act ("AMLA") in response to a proposal made by a committee of Muslim professionals, lawyers, and scholars.10 Under the AMLA, the Syariah Court continued to have jurisdiction over disputes pertaining to issues of marriage and divorce between Muslims.11

Historically, Islamic courts consisted of a single judge called a kadi (qadi).12 In the Singaporean context, kadi refers to the official who solemnizes Muslim marriages.13 Kadis are assisted by a deputy called a naib kadi. : 14

The main judge of the Syariah Court is called the President.15 The President presides over court hearings and has the authority to make final decisions on cases heard before the court.16 The chief judge of the court is called the Senior President. In addition to full-time court officers, the Syariah Court also uses ad hoc Presidents who are appointed to act as President in specific cases.17

The chief administrative officer of the Syariah Court is the Registrar. 18 The Registrar is a judicial officer who has the authority to register and issue orders of divorce and ancillary orders.19 The Registrar also administers the daily administration and schedule of hearings for the court offices.

The Appeal Board hears appeals from decisions of the Syariah Court, TO the kadi, or the naib kadi. Appeal Board members have the authority to confirm, reverse, or vary the decision of the Syariah Court, exercise such powers as the Syariah Court could have exercised, make such order as the Syariah Court ought to have made, and to order a retrial or award costs as they see fit. 21

III. Educational Qualifications for Appointment as a Judge

A. What Academic Degrees Qualify a Person for an Appointment as a Judge?

Singaporean law does not require any formal educational credentials or other special training for appointment to any of the positions in the Syariah Court. By convention, a degree in law or any field of Islamic studies is considered appropriate. Qualified candidates with a diploma in Syariah or Islamic studies are also considered. 22

B. What Institutions Offer Degrees that Qualify a Person to Act as a Judge? …

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