The Inherent Jurisdiction and Inherent Powers of the Singapore Courts: Rethinking the Limits of Their Exercise

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Journal Article

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The issue of the limits of the courts' inherent jurisdiction and inherent powers has always been an important one. For a long time the courts have been satisfied with broad tests based on "need" or the "justice of the case" to set such limits. These tests are highly useful by being flexible, but that flexibility is also a source of uncertainty. This article suggests a new way of understanding the limits of the Singapore courts' inherent jurisdiction and inherent powers. It does this with a three-step approach. First, it argues for a new approach towards terminology and explains why this is important. From a study of all reported Singapore cases between independence and mid-2010 that contain the expression "inherent jurisdiction" or "inherent power(s)", it will be seen that the Singapore courts have meant different things even when the same expression is being used. It is thus necessary to be clear about what is actually meant by the expressions "inherent jurisdiction" and "inherent power(s)". Second, utilising the suggested approach towards terminology, this article shows that it is possible to separate three distinct categories of the courts' inherent jurisdiction and inherent powers. Third, and finally, this article argues that the limits to be placed on each category ought to be distinct. Thus, a test based on "need" or "justice of the case" may be more strictly (or liberally) applied in one category than in another. The underlying consideration is that of legislative exclusion; and, where this is not express, it may be possible to imply this based on a sliding scale according to the three categories of inherent jurisdiction and inherent powers suggested in this article.


Jurisdiction, Courts, Power, Singapore


Asian Studies | Courts | Legislation


Singapore Journal of Legal Studies



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National University of Singapore

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