How can you represent yourself in court for civil lawsuits? From personal injury cases to contract cases, the process may seem complicated and even labyrinthe to the layman. Although litigants in person who conduct their own cases are required to prepare and conduct their case to the same standard as lawyers, it is not impossible. This article serves to introduce the civil process for claims filed on/after 1 November 2014. (Note that the court process for claims filed before 1 November 2014 is different from what is set out in this article.)
Starting a Civil Action
Step 1: Plaintiff (Party making the claim) files a claim document called “Writ of Summons” or “Originating Summons” (less common).
Compared to a Writ of Summons, the Originating Summons is a simpler and swifter procedure for the resolution of disputes as it is determined generally on affidavits filed and does not involve pleadings or many interlocutory proceedings.
Matter is heard in different courts (Magistrate, District or High Court according to value of claim)
Step 2: Defendant to decide if he would like to
Either pay the plaintiff:
- Follow the writ and pay the plaintiff accordingly. This is the fastest and most cost-efficient method to settle.
Or contest the claim:
- File a memorandum of appearance (MOA) within 8 days
- File a defence in Court and serve a copy of his defence on the Plaintiff within 22 days from when the Writ was served.
Step 3: Plaintiff may serve his response on the Defendant within 14 days after the defence & counterclaim has been served on him. The legal documents for these are Reply to the Defendant & Defence to a counterclaim.
This is applicable for cases that do not fall into the non-injury motor accident OR personal injury cases. For those instances, Judges in the State Courts Centre for Dispute Resolution will preside over the cases instead.
Step 1: Pre- Case Management Conference (CMC)
Parties are encouraged to negotiate. They will need to file Form 3 – List of Issues in Dispute and List of Witnesses. As the name suggests, it is to inform the Court and the other party of the areas of dispute as well as witnesses that will be called upon to give evidence in support of the party’s case. They will also need to file an ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Form. This informs the Court and the other party of alternative dispute resolution methods that the party prefers to solve the case. Options include mediation, neutral evaluation, and arbitration.
Step 2: Attend a Case Management Conference (CMC).
The Court will assist parties to narrow the issues, deal with interlocutory matters (procedural matters) and review possible options with parties for case resolution. They will direct parties to mediation or other ADR options if the Court is of the view that it is most helpful in this case. Alternatively, they will give parties directions for trial if the Court is of the view that it is most helpful in this case.
Examples of preparation for trial:
- Inspection: To look at the original documents in the List of Documents and make copies to prepare case.
- Number of witnesses: that a party may require, and the number of days a trial may require.
- Other matters: Such as professional advice or photographs as evidence.
Step 1: Bring 2 sets of all the documents submitted to Court. (One for the witness and one for yourself.)
Those documents include:
- Affidavits of Evidence-In-Chief and Bundle of Documents which must be filed not less than 5 days from the start of trial
- The originals of the Affidavit of Evidence-In-Chief (AEIC) of the witnesses. Simply put, these are witness statements under oath.
- A bundle of all the documents to be relied on or used during trial.
- Bundle of Authorities
- This includes cases, statutes, subsidiary legislation and any other materials that a party seeks to rely on.
- Opening Statements
- Sets out the party’s case succinctly both as to facts and law. This will help to clarify issues between parties.
- The plaintiff’s opening statement must be filed and served on all parties not less than three days before the start of the trial.
- The opening statements for the other parties should similarly be filed and served not later than two days before the start of the trial.
Step 2: Attend trial
A trial starts with Opening Statements. Since the parties’ opening statements would have been submitted to the Court prior to the trial, it would be deemed “seen and read”, so parties would then proceed straight into the next step, instead of making oral submissions. The next step is the Examination of witnesses. Here, the plaintiff presents his evidence first, by calling his witnesses to give evidence. The first opportunity to ask his witnesses questions is called the “examination-in-chief” of the witness. Lastly, the trial ends with Closing submissions from both parties.
Step 3: Return for Judgement
The Court either pronounces judgement immediately after listening to the closing submissions, or adjourns to take more time to consider evidence and arguments of each party. In the latter case, the parties will be informed of when to return to Court for the judgement
For cases heard by a Deputy Registrar, a party who wishes to file an appeal may do so to a District Judge within 14 days of the judgment, order or decision and the Appeal will be heard by a District Judge in chambers.
Similarly, for cases heard by a District Judge in chambers, a party may file an appeal to a High Court Judge in chambers within 14 days of the judgment. Permission of the Court to appeal is required if the amount in dispute or the value of the subject-matter does not exceed $50,000. Or, a party who wishes to appeal after a trial court hearing may file an appeal, with permission required if amount or value of dispute does not exceed $50,000.
Pre-Enforcement & Enforcement
If a Debtor fails to pay the Creditor the sum that he is ordered by the Court to pay, the Debtor may be summoned to provide an explanation, and to provide documents such as bank statements, CPF statements, investment statements, title deeds and more, for the Creditor to decide how to recover the debt and enforce the payment.
Option 1: Writ of Execution
This includes a Writ of Seizure and Sale (WSS) of movable and immovable property, Writ of Delivery and Writ of Distress. Court Bailiffs will be authorised to seize furniture in the Debtor’s home, the proceeds of which will be used to pay the debt.
Option 2: Garnishee Proceedings
A Creditor may recover the sum owed to him by obtaining the Debtor’s source of income via Garnishee proceedings, which switches the Garnishee’s obligations from paying the Debtor to paying the Creditor instead.
Infographic of the process above
This guide is a quick and handy summary of a civil process. However, if you are in need of some quick legal advice or want a second opinion before you make any decisions on conducting your case in person, consider using Quick Consult to get 15 minutes of help from a practicing lawyer on Asia Law Network over the phone for a flat fee of $49.
A Guide to Common Civil Justice Processes.pdf
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.