President of the Singapore Academy of Law, the Honourable Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

Senior President, Syariah Court, Mr Mohamed Hj Rais

President MUIS, Mr Alami Musa

Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram

Distinguished guests

I am happy to be here amongst a distinguished audience that includes members of the Judiciary, the Syariah Appeal Board and our fraternity of Muslim family and personal law practitioners. We are particularly privileged to have with us the Honourable Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, and other distinguished guests representing Singapore Academy of Law. Today’s event marks a significant milestone in the development of Muslim family and personal laws in Singapore as we launch the maiden publication of the Singapore Syariah Appeals Reports.

2 The Singapore Syariah Appeals Reports, or SSAR in short, is the official report series on grounds of decisions delivered by the Appeal Board. Published by the Syariah Court, it covers landmark decisions of the Appeal Board from the years 1980 to 2010 on cases from both the Syariah Court and the Registry of Muslim Marriages.

Key institution
3 The Syariah Court is a key institution of the Muslim community in Singapore. It was constituted on 25th November 1958 pursuant to the 1957 Muslims Ordinance which came into force on the same day.

4 The 1957 Muslims Ordinance was repealed by the Administration of Muslim Law Act, or AMLA, in July 1968, providing for a more comprehensive framework in regulating Muslim religious affairs. AMLA also saw the establishment of Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis), and the re-establishment of the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) and the Syariah Court.

5 The Syariah Court hears and determines disputes on Muslim marriages, divorces, the ancillary matters and betrothal as prescribed by the AMLA. It also issues Inheritance Certificates for estates of deceased Muslims. Cases at first instance are heard by the Syariah Court.

The Appeal Board
6 The Appeal Board is the body which hears appeals against decisions of the Presidents of the Syariah Court and Kadi or Naib Kadi of the Registry of Muslim Marriages as set out by AMLA. The decision of the Appeal Board is final.

7 The Appeal Board is a body constituting of three members drawn from a panel of persons appointed by the President of Singapore. The panel consists of Muslim legal scholars, District Judges, senior lawyers and senior Legal Officers. The Appeal Board currently has 20 members, four of whom are women.

Development of Muslim Family and Personal Laws
8 The Syariah Court has come a long way since its inception in 1957. Indeed, its present custom-built location in Lengkok Bahru has facilities comparable to those of the Family Court.

9 The Syariah Court also harnesses the advantages of Information Technology and this has allowed the Court to settle divorce cases and the ancillary issues in a more expedient and effective manner. Where it took one-and-a-half to two years to conclude a case previously, the timeframe now is usually less than six months for cases settled at the mediation stage.

10 And in tandem with infrastructural improvements, the Syariah Court has seen many improvements to the Muslim legal system. In a continuous quest to promote the development of Muslim family and personal laws here, the focus has been on two areas – strengthening the powers of the Syariah Court and enhancing its jurisprudence.

11 Enhancements to the role and functions of the Syariah Court have taken place over the years through amendments to the AMLA. In 1999, the Act was amended to strengthen the powers of the Syariah Court and more resources were channelled to the Court to manage the backlog of cases then. The posts of the Registrar of the Syariah Court, Senior President and Ad-hoc Presidents were created to assist in the disposal of cases. The Syariah Court was also given powers to execute the disposal of matrimonial property should either party be in breach of the Court’s order. Another notable enhancement was to clarify the jurisdiction of Civil and Syariah Court in ancillary matters by providing for concurrent jurisdiction.

12 AMLA was further amended in 2008 for Syariah Court orders to be treated as District Court orders for purposes of enforcement without the need for registration, which would incur unnecessary costs in terms of money and time. This amendment, which was recommended by the Muslim Law Practice Committee (MLPC), removed major barriers for parties wanting to enforce a Syariah Court order at the civil courts.

Enhancing Muslim Law Jurisprudence
13 The SSAR is a major milestone in efforts to enhance Muslim family and personal law jurisprudence in Singapore. The main objective of the SSAR is to provide a source of authoritative reference to Muslim law here. Such a reference, we believe, is essential to the promotion and advancement of a body of law and its jurisprudence. Referring to case precedents in deducing or developing rulings is part of the Islamic legal tradition. Traditional jurists have been known to rely upon the concept of qiyas or deductive analogy in deducing rulings for new issues. I am pleased to learn that our learned Mufti will be giving a lecture on “Judicial Precedents in the Administration and Implementation of Muslim law” as part of today’s events.

14 The SSAR will provide an authoritative reference for Muslim law practitioners to cite local cases of greater relevance to support their arguments, instead of relying on cases decided by other jurisdictions.

15 On the issue of custody, for example, the Court of Appeal here decided in a case in 2005 that joint custody should be the norm and sole custody the exception. For Syariah Court cases, the Appeal Board has applied this principle from the civil courts to a case it heard in 2007, reflecting the co-existence of both the syariah and civil law in our unique system. This principle was further strengthened in another Appeal Board case the following year where it was stated that although the “contemporary understanding of joint custody was novel and hardly found in traditional Islamic jurisprudence, it does not contradict the Islamic law on hadhanah”, or custody.

16 Such decisions show that Muslim law here is progressive as it takes into account the context we live in and the laws governing the majority of the people in this secular state of ours. Strengthening the development of Muslim law here will also bring about a higher standard of advocacy among Muslim law practitioners at the Syariah Court and the Appeal Board.

17 Another key objective of the SSAR is to provide greater transparency in the way the Appeal Board presides over the cases that come before it. This will instill greater confidence among the legal fraternity and the wider community in the process by which the decisions of the Appeal Board are arrived. We must continue to safeguard and strengthen our institutions.

18 Finally, it is hoped that the SSAR would be a catalyst in spurring greater academic discussion: not just from the legal standpoint in terms of scrutinising the legal procedures and process, or carrying out comparative studies of different jurisdictions. The SSAR could also be used by the academic community to better understand the causes of marital disputes. This will add further to our understanding of such issues thereby helping the community to better plan our upstream programmes to strengthen marriages and family formation.

Tribute to SSAR Publication team
19 The SSAR would not have been possible but for the support of MCYS and the tireless efforts of a small team from the Syariah Court and MUIS. The latter provides administrative and secretariat support to the Appeal Board. The team was guided by former District Judge and ad-hoc President of the Syariah Court, Mr Zainol Abeedin Hussin and the project took almost two years to complete. The team also had valuable legal inputs from the Attorney-General’s Chambers and worked very closely with the team from Academy Publishing. I would also like to thank all the current and previous members of the Appeal Board who have volunteered their time and expertise in ensuring that Islamic family law in Singapore is administered in a fair and balanced manner.

20 It is our sincere hope that the maiden publication of the SSAR would be an indispensable source of reference of Muslim family and personal laws here. It is yet another testimony to the progressive nature of our community and a commendable achievement on the part of the Syariah Court. It is a great honour to launch the Singapore Syariah Appeals Reports.