What happens when I sue or get sued?
- What’s the difference between the various courts?
- What’s the legal process in a nutshell?
- What is mediation?
- What’s the difference between litigation and arbitration?
- Who would be my witnesses in court?
- How do I collate and present my evidence in court?
1. What is the purpose of a lawyer’s letter of demand?
The starting point for disputants is typically to send a lawyer’s letter of demand to the opposing party, to summarize the issues in dispute and to set out your demands. This may be a straight forward letter demanding for payment of an outstanding invoice; or a summary of a set of facts to lay the background for your demands. Such letters of demand typically give the recipients a deadline to comply with the demands failing which the sender of the letter would commence legal proceedings against the recipient.
2. What’s the difference between the various courts?
Generally speaking, claims up to $60k are commenced in the Magistrates’ Court; claims between $60k and $250k are handled by the District Court; and claims above $250k are dealt with by the High Court.
3. What’s the legal process in a nutshell?
(a) The plaintiff files a writ of summons and a statement of claim setting out his complaints and demands;
(b) The Defendant files his defence disputing the demands, and possibly a counterclaim against the plaintiff;
(c) The plaintiff files a reply to the defendant’s allegations;
(d) The plaintiff and defendant exchange all relevant documents with each other;
(e) The plaintiff and all his witnesses file their affidavits of evidence in chief setting out their facts and evidence (and similarly for the defendant);
(f) The plaintiff, defendant and all their witnesses testify orally in court;
(g) The judge decides on the outcome of the dispute after considering all the evidence;
(h) The above process typically takes between 1½ to 2 years.
4. What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary process where the plaintiff and defendant agree on the appointment of a mediator to mediate an amicable settlement of the dispute instead of litigating. The mediator has no power to compel either party to accept any position. Settlements achieved through mediation typically involve both parties adopting a “give and take” attitude. Mediation is good in situations where one or both parties do not wish to “lose face” as a good mediator can couch a settlement on a “win-win” basis and persuade both parties that the mediated outcome is much more desirable than the uncertainties of litigation. If parties reach an amicable settlement at a mediation, parties will sign a settlement agreement setting out the terms of the agreement, and such a settlement agreement is enforceable in court if a party reneges on the agreement or fails to perform his part.
5. What’s the difference between litigation and arbitration?
Litigation is where a plaintiff sues a defendant in court. Parties have no choice over which judge is assigned to the case. Arbitration takes place where the contract between the parties expressly states that any dispute between the parties shall be arbitrated (instead of litigated). In an arbitration, parties may agree on the appointment of a particular arbitrator. Whereas parties need not pay for the judge, an arbitrator typically charges about $1k per hour for his role from the time of his appointment to the conclusion of the arbitration. An arbitrator’s decision is enforceable by the parties, much like a judge’s decision.
6. Who would be my witnesses in court?
Apart from the disputants i.e. the plaintiff and the defendant, any other individuals who are personally familiar with the facts or involved in the dispute may be required to testify on behalf of the plaintiff or the defendant. It is not uncommon for individuals to decline to get involved in the court hearing in which event the disputant may have to issue a summons to compel that unwilling individual to testify.
7. How do I collate and present my evidence in court?
From the time when you sense that a dispute may “turn ugly”, you should start preserving evidence such as whatsapp messages and emails, and collate all the documents that are relevant to the dispute. Once you engage a lawyer, you should furnish all these evidence to your lawyer to facilitate his preparation of your case.
8. What about legal costs?
Legal costs are generally high and often outweigh the amount of the claim. If the dispute is an economic disagreement with little emotional baggage, disputants should consider their best and worst case scenarios, factor in the legal costs and opportunity costs, and try to resolve the dispute amicably. Don’t throw away good money after bad, and don’t cut your nose to spite your face. In certain cases, disputants are adamant in litigating as “a matter of principle” and not “a matter of money”. At the conclusion of the litigation process, the court would generally order the “loser” of the dispute to contribute towards the legal costs of the “winner”, but such contribution would often still leave the “winner” out of pocket. There is a common misconception that the winner’s legal costs would be borne entirely by the loser. Disputants should dispel such a misconception and be prepared to “put his money where his mouth is” if his agenda is to “teach the opponent a lesson”.