Legal FAQs

In this section of Singapore Legal FAQs, we list frequently asked questions relating to Singapore law. Most of the answers are extracted from statutes, regulations, official releases and other relevant sources. The answers should be taken as general information only and not as any form of advice.


What is bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy is a process where the debtor is publicly recognised to be insolvent (meaning generally to be unable to repay a debt of at least S$10,000). The High Court makes a Bankruptcy Order against the debtor and he is declared a bankrupt. The process allows for dealing with all creditors’ claims in an orderly and fair manner. The High Court usually appoints the Official Assignee to administer the bankruptcy estate which includes the selling of assets, registration of creditors’ claims and paying dividends to a bankrupt’s creditors.


Contracts – What amounts to an offer?

In most contracts, an analysis of offer and acceptance provides the starting point for determining whether agreement has been reached.

An offer is a communication amounting to a promise to do something (or not do something) by the `offeror´ on specified terms if the person to whom the offer is made (the `offeree´) acts in accordance with the specified terms.

No particular form is required to constitute an offer – it can be made orally or in writing. An offer may be made to an individual, a group, or even to the world at large.

In the English case of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company [1892] EWCA Civ 1, the court ruled that an advertisement containing certain terms to get a reward constituted an unilateral offer that could be accepted by anyone who performed its terms.

The Carbolic Smoke Ball Co produced the ‘Carbolic Smoke Ball’ designed to prevent users contracting influenza or similar illnesses. The company’s advertised that:

“100 pounds reward will be paid by the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company to any person who contracts the increasing epidemic influenza, colds, or any disease caused by taking cold, after having used the ball three times daily for two weeks according to the printed directions supplied with each ball. 1,000 pounds is deposited with the Alliance Bank, Regent Street, showing our sincerity in the matter”.

Based on the advertisement, Mrs Carlill bought one of the balls and used it three times daily for nearly two months. She subsequently caught the flu and claimed the advertised reward. The company refused to pay. Mrs Carlill successfully sued for the reward. The court said that was a binding contract comprising a valid offer (by advertisement) of the Carbolic Smoke Ball company and the acceptance (by performance of conditions stated in the offer) by Mrs Carlill.


How can an offer be terminated?

Offers may be terminated in a number of ways:-

  • revocation;
  • rejection;
  • lapse of time;
  • death; or
  • as stipulated in the offer.

Revocation – As a general rule, an offer may be terminated at any time prior to acceptance – even if the offeror has promised he would keep the offer open until a particular time (unless that promise is supported by consideration). To be effective a revocation must be communicated.

Rejection – Once an offer is rejected by the offeree it can no longer be accepted. Rejection includes the making of a counter-offer.

Time -If an offer stipulates a time for acceptance then acceptance after that time will not be effective. If no time is stipulated, an offer will lapse after a reasonable time.

Death – Death of the offeror will terminate the offer, if the death is known to the offeree. In the absence of knowledge, death of either party terminates any offer which has a personal element.

Specified condition -An offer may stipulate that it will terminate if a particular condition is (or is not) satisfied.

What is Consideration?

A promise contained in an agreement is generally not legally binding unless it is supported by consideration.

Consideration is the price that is asked by the promisor in exchange for his promise. Consideration is something of value (as defined by the law) requested by the promisor and provided by the promisee. It can consist of either some benefit received by the promisor, or some detriment to the promisee. Consideration can take virtually any form and, need not be of comparable value to the promise for which it is provided.

For example, if A (the promisor) promises to clean the car of B (the promisee), A’s promise will only be legally binding as a contract if B has provided consideration. The consideration from B can take the form of a payment of money but can also consist of some other service to which A might agree. Further, a counter-promise is sufficient. Thus, A can promise to clean the car of B and in return B can promise to run an errand for A’s aged mother.


What is Privity of Contract?

Privity means a relation between two parties that is recognized by law; and Privity of Contract means relation which subsists between two contracting parties.

As a general rule, the application of doctrine of privity of contract means that only parties to a contract will have rights or obligations under that contract. An agreement between X and Y cannot impose legal obligations on Z. A contract between X and Y cannot be enforced by Z, even if the contract is intended to benefit Z.

In Singapore, the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act applies to all contracts formed on or after 1 July 2002. The Act gives a third party, Z, a right to enforce a term of a contract between X & Y if either
(a) the contract expressly provides that Z may enforce a term of the contract in his own right; or
(b) the contract confers a benefit on Z and there is nothing in the contract that suggests that X and Y did not intend the term to be enforceable by Z.


What are Liquidated Damages?

Liquidated damages are compensation in a specific sum agreed by contracting parties as payable upon a specific breach. Liquidated damages will be suitable where actual damages are difficult to prove or ascertain. A liquidated damages clause sets an amount as agreed compensation in a contract in the event of a breach.

For example, parties may agree that liquidated damages for late delivery of an item ordered shall be $10 per day.


What are Aggravated damages?

Aggravated damages are essentially additional damages awarded because of aggravating factors before and during trial. Aggravated damages provide additional compensation for mental distress or injury to feelings caused by the manner or motive with which a wrong was committed or by the defendant’s conduct subsequent to the wrong.

Examples of aggravating factors are:

  • Failure to apologise
  • Malice which the defendant may bear against the plaintiff
  • Misleading the court
  • Cruelty
  • High-handed conduct.

Criminal Law

What is the meaning of Abet?

To abet means to help, encourage or incite someone to commit a crime, including to help plan the crime or escape from crime scene, or to do anything to facilitate the commission of the crime.

Section 107 of the Penal Code –
A person abets the doing of a thing who —
(a) instigates any person to do that thing;
(b) engages with one or more other person or persons in any conspiracy for the doing of that thing, if an act or illegal omission takes place in pursuance of that conspiracy, and in order to the doing of that thing; or
(c) intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of that thing.

Criminal Procedure

What is bail?

Bail is cash or some form of property deposited or pledged by a person, as the bailor, either with the police or the courts in order to secure the release of an accused from remand prison on the understanding that the bailor will ensure that the accused will return to court for the court hearing.

A bailor can be anyone who is: 21 years and above; not a bankrupt; not a person with pending case in the courts; a Singapore citizen or a Permanent Resident of Singapore; prepared to accept the responsibilities of a bailor until the case is over; and prepared to pledge security whether in cash or in personal properties for the amount of bail as ordered by the Court. The accused cannot be his own bailor.

Can a person be prosecuted in Singapore for an offence which he has committed overseas?

No, except in a few special cases where the laws expressly say that a person can be liable for offences committed outside Singapore. Generally, Singapore laws have no effect overseas. There are certain laws that apply to a citizen or a permanent resident of Singapore, whether such a person is outside or within Singapore, e.g. laws relating to corruption (see: section 37 of the Prevention of Corruption Act) and laws relating to commercial sex with a minor (see section 376C of the Penal Code).


What is a private prosecution and who can institute it?

A private prosecution is an action by a private individual in relation to an offense against him. If the person being prosecuted is found guilty and convicted, the offender will be sentenced by the Court, even though the prosecution was not instituted by the Government or Public Prosecutor. A private prosecution is “a prosecution by a private individual which, if successful, relies on the state machinery to mete out the sentence imposed”- per Yong CJ, in Cheng William v Loo Ngee Long Edmund [2001] 2 SLR(R) 626. The private prosecution may be conducted by the private individual or a lawyer engaged by him.



What is Defamation?

Defamation is the act of making a false statement about someone that lowers the reputation of that person in the eyes of reasonable persons in general.
Oral defamatory words are called “slander”. Written defamatory words are called “libel”.
A person can sue for defamation if (1) the words are defamatory of her; (2) the words identify her; and (3) the words were published to third parties.

Oral defamatory words are called “slander”. Written defamatory words are called “libel”.

A person can sue for defamation if (1) the words are defamatory of her; (2) the words identify her; and (3) the words were published to third parties.


What are the requirements for a divorce?

A person can be be granted a divorce if Court agrees that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. To establish that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, you must show the Court that one or more of the following facts is true:

a. your spouse has committed adultery, and you find it intolerable to live with him or her;

b. your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her;

c. your spouse has deserted you for at least two years;

d. if your spouse agrees to the divorce, you and your spouse have been separated for at least three years

e. if your spouse does not agree to the divorce, you and your spouse have been separated for at least four years.


Section 95(3), Women’s Charter.




When is a marriage voidable??

A marriage is voidable on the following grounds:

(a) the marriage has not been consummated due to the incapacity of either party;

(b) the marriage has not been consummated owing to the wilful refusal of the defendant to consummate it;

(c) either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it, whether in consequence of duress, mistake, mental disorder or otherwise;

(d) at the time of the marriage either party, though capable of giving a valid consent, was suffering (whether continuously or intermittently) from mental disorder to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage;

(e) at the time of the marriage the defendant was suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form;

(f) at the time of the marriage the defendant was pregnant by some person other than the plaintiff.

A judgment of nullity granted on the ground that a marriage is voidable operates to annul the marriage only as respects any time after the judgment has been made final, and the marriage is treated as if it had existed up to that time.

Where a marriage is annulled, any child of the parties to the marriage at the date of the judgment shall be deemed to be their legitimate child, notwithstanding the annulment.


Sections 106-111, Women’s Charter



Are fathers entitled to paid Paternity Leave?

Working fathers are entitled to 1 week of Government-paid Paternity Leave (GPPL).

In addition to the 1 week of mandatory paternity leave, the employer can voluntarily grant up to 1 additional week of paternity leave to fathers.

The government will pay for GPPL, with wage reimbursements capped at $2,500 (including CPF contributions) per 1 week of paternity leave.

GPPL must be used (1) in a continuous block within 16 weeks from the birth of the child, or (2) flexibly within 12 months from the birth of the child, subject to mutual agreement between the father and his employer.

The child must be a Singapore Citizen; and the father must be legally married to the mother.

– for more information see Citizen Connect Centre


Intellectual Property

Who is the Owner of Copyright Works?

Generally, the author (the person who created the work) owns the copyright in the work. For example, the author of a photograph is the person who snapped the camera shutter. If a photographer, A, took a photograph of a celebrity at the airport, A owns the copyright.

Employees – If the work is created by an employee pursuant to his contract of employment, the employer owns the copyright in the work.

There are special rules relating to employees working for newspaper/magazine/periodical. Commissioned Work – If a work (portrait/photograph/ engraving) is commissioned by a party, the commissioner owns the copyright in the work. For example, A commissioned B to take a photograph of A; the copyright in the photograph belongs to A. The parties can also by contract agrees who shall own the copyright to the work.


What is a trade mark?

A trade mark is a sign used in business to distinguish a business’ goods or services from those of other traders. To qualify for registration in Singapore, a mark must be distinctive and capable of distinguishing the goods or services from similar ones of other traders. The following, or any combination of these elements, can be registered as a trade mark: letters, words, names, signatures, labels, devices, tickets, shapes and colours. A registered trade mark protects the mark by restricting other people from sing it. Once acquired, a trade mark can last indefinitely in Singapore, as long as the registration is renewed every 10 years. f you successfully register a trade mark, you are permitted to use the ® symbol next to your mark. The symbol associated with trade mark ™ denotes that the mark is being used by the company as their trade mark but it does not mean that the mark is registered or protected under trade mark law.


What is Joint Ownership?

Joint Ownership of Property – 2 or more persons can own an immovable property (whether HDB or private, residential or commercial).

The law provides for 2 forms of ownership: Joint Tenancy and Tenancy-in-Common.

Joint Tenancy – Each owner will hold the whole property jointly with the other without any division of shares in the property. If A and B are joint tenants of the property, then upon the death of A, A’s interest in the property will automatically pass to B. Even if A had left a Will, A’s interest in the property will not be distributed in accordance with A’s Will. In other words, the survivor of the two will be entitled to the entire property. This known in law as the right of survivorship.

Tenancy-in-Common – Each co-owner holds a separate and definite share in the property e.g. 1/3 and 2/3; or 1/4, 1/4 and 2/4; or 1/2 and 1/2. There is no right of survivorship in tenancy-in-common. If A and B hold the property as tenants-in-common, then upon A’s death, A’s share in the property will form part of A’s estate and will be distributed in accordance with A’s Will, or if A has died without leaving a Will, his interest will be distributed in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act.


What is Quiet Enjoyment?

The covenant for Quiet Enjoyment is a covenant that the tenant’s lawful possession of the property and the enjoyment of the premises for all usual purposes will not be substantially interfered with by the acts of the landlord. It means that the tenant has a right, not just to occupy the property, but to use the property in a lawful way without interference.

The covenant for quiet enjoyment is not about noise levels. Quiet enjoyment is not a guarantee that the premises will never be disturbed by noise. In the English case of Jenkins v Jackson, 40 Ch. D. 71 (1888), Justice Kekewich explained that quiet enjoyment in the context of a residential tenancy “does not mean undisturbed by noise…. though the word quiet is frequently used with reference to noise. (Quiet enjoyment) means without interference – without interruption of possession.”

Legal Aid

What does legal aid cover?

The Legal Aid Bureau handles civil matters including divorce, adoptions, claims for maintenance, custody of children, separation, wrongful dismissals, tenancy disputes, monetary claims, motor and industrial accident claims and estate matters. It does not cover criminal matters.

Legal Aid Bureau


Who is eligible for legal aid from the Legal Aid Bureau ?

Generally, to qualify for legal aid,

a) the person must be a Singapore Citizen or a Singapore Permanent Resident and be present in Singapore;

b) the person’s income for the past 12 months before the date of application for legal aid must not exceed $10,000

c) the person’s disposable capital must not exceed $10,000; and

d) there must be merits in the person’s case.

The Director of Legal Aid have some discretion in cases of real hardship to extend assistance even if the person is not eligible under the income/disposal capital test.


What legal assistance schemes cover criminal matters??

All persons facing capital charges in the High Court are ensured of legal representation under the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (‘LASCO’). Anyone facing a capital charge is eligible to be assigned counsel by the State free of charge. No means test or other eligibility criteria is imposed.

The Law Society’s Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (“CLAS”) provides legal assistance to the needy who are unable to afford a lawyer, and are:
facing charges in a Singapore court for a non death-penalty offence; and
NOT pleading guilty.


Who else may provide legal assistance to the needy besides the Legal Aid Bureau?

The Pro Bono Services Office of the Law Society of Singapore helps bring free legal assistance to those in need. One of their initiatives is the Community Legal Clinic – where a person can seek free basic legal advice and
information. Needy Singaporeans and permanent residents will be able to consult a qualified volunteer lawyer
on a one-to-one basis in a 20-minute session.



Public Assembly

When do we need a police permit for public assembly? A permit is required if you wish to hold any assembly or procession in any public place or place in which members of the public in general are invited, induced or permitted to attend and intended: i) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person; i) to publicise a cause or campaign; or iii) to mark or commemorate any event. section 2(1) of the Public Order Act:- “assembly” means a gathering or meeting (whether or not comprising any lecture, talk, address, debate or discussion) of persons the purpose (or one of the purposes) of which is — (a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government; b) to publicise a cause or campaign; or (c) to mark or commemorate any event, and includes a demonstration by a person alone for any such purpose referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c)


Are electronic cigarettes permitted in Singapore?

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) re prohibited under Section 16 (1) of the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, which is enforced by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA). Any toy or other article that is designed to resemble a tobacco product or the packaging of which is designed to resemble the packaging commonly associated with tobacco products is prohibited under the Act.

Is there an ethical obligation to charge a fair and reasonable fee on the part of all doctors practising medicine in Singapore?

The Singapore Court of Appeal says that it is clear that every doctor is under an ethical obligation to charge a fair and reasonable fee for services rendered to his or her patient. The Court also says that what constitutes a fair and reasonable fee for services rendered will depend on the relevant facts as well as the views of experts in the particular field of practice concerned


Are Parliament proceedings open to the public?

Parliament proceedings are open to the public. Parliament does not accept booking or reservation of seats. The Serjeant-at-Arms issues admission Orders to members of the public who apply in person at the Public Lobby, if there are still seats available. The requirements for admission are the same for Singapore citizens and foreigners.


What is a Society?

A Society is defined in the Societies Act as a club, company, partnership or association of 10 or more persons, whatever its nature or object, and not already registered under any the law. The income and property of a Society must be applied towards the promotion of the objects of the Society as et out in its Constitution and no portion can be paid or transferred directly or indirectly to members of the Society.


Are they laws governing the use of the State Crest?

The use of the State Crest for advertisements or any other commercial purpose is prohibited by law. Only government bodies can display the State Crest within their premises. Approval must be sought for any other use of the State Crest.