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Scope of Work
Diagnosing Issues: Comprehensive Analysis of the Facts and Evidence
Pre-Trial: Initiating Proceedings and Interlocutory Applications
Trial: Oral and Written Submissions; Examination of Witnesses
Post-Judgment: Enforcement of Orders and Appeals
Areas of Civil Law
- Contract Law
- Tort Law
- Company Law
- Insolvency & Bankruptcy
- Directors & Shareholders Disputes
- Partnership Disputes
- Defamation Suits
- Harassment Claims
- Negligence Claims
- Contentious Probate Matters
- Conveyancing Disputes
- Corporate Debt Recovery
- Employment Disputes
- Commercial Arbitration
- Banking & Finance Matters
- Intellectual Property
Frequently Asked Questions
When a person is faced with a civil dispute, it is important that the person seeks prompt legal advice on the situation he faces so that he is able to make an informed decision on the course of action he should take. Questions which require due consideration include:–
A claim is basically a legal action taken to enforce the rights of the claimant (also called the “plaintiff”) against one or more defendants. So long as you have a legal right to enforce, you have the legal basis to make a claim.
The majority of civil claims are usually in contract or tort.
Contractual claims allow parties to enforce an agreement (which may be oral or written) and obtain remedies for the other party’s breach. The most common remedy is monetary compensation, but in some cases the Courts may award equitable remedies such as specific performance (i.e. the party in breach is ordered to do what they promised to do) or a prohibitory injunction (i.e., an order that a party must not do certain acts).
Tortious claims allow parties to obtain compensation or equitable remedies for other parties’ breaches of duties and infringements of rights. For example, a negligence claim is made to demand compensation for a defendant’s breach of a duty of care owed to the claimant. A battery claim is made to receive compensation for a defendant’s infringement of the claimant’s right to his/her own bodily integrity.
Other commonly litigated civil claims include:
Company law – enforcing dividend rights, voting rights
Employment law – claims for wrongful dismissal
Property law – enforcing ownership, occupation rights
Equities & Trusts law – enforcing interests, fiduciary duties
A time-bar is a limitation period set out in the Limitation Act. Once your right to initiate a claim arises, it must be exercised within this limitation period or it will become time-barred (i.e. unenforceable).
The limitation period for common lawsuits are:
Contract – 6 years
Negligence, nuisance or breach of duty – 3 years (personal injury); 6 years (non-personal injury)
Enforcement of judgment – 12 years
Legal proceedings are either commenced by filing a Writ of Summons or an Originating Summons.
A Writ of Summons is meant for matters which require a trial. A trial is required when there are disputed facts between parties. A Writ of Summons must be accompanied by a Statement of Claim which sets out the facts which give rise to the claim(s).
An Originating Summons is meant for matters which involve purely “legal” issues – i.e., parties are in agreement in respect of the facts, and the dispute is on what each party’s legal rights and duties are. An Originating Summons must be accompanied by a Supporting Affidavit (i.e., a statement made on oath setting out the grounds for the claim).
A letter of demand simply sets out what the writer accuses you of breaching, and demands you to perform or cease certain acts, failing which the writer may initiate legal proceedings.
A letter of demand is not a formal Court document and does not initiate any legal proceedings.
The letter of demand, as well any acknowledgement or reply may be admitted as evidence subsequently.
Each level of the Singapore Courts has varying jurisdiction over civil litigation disputes depending on quantum of the claim and the subject matter of the lawsuit:
Small Claims Tribunal – contract, property damage, or leasing disputes not exceeding $20,000 by default; disputes not exceeding $30,000 with parties’ agreement. (Note: Legal representation by lawyers is not allowed in the SCT).
Magistrate’s Court – disputes not exceeding $60,000.
District Court – disputes not exceeding $250,000; disputes exceeding $250,000 with parties’ agreement.
High Court (General Division) – disputes exceeding $250,000.
While the Court may allow you to file a claim in a higher Court, the legal costs awarded to you if you are successful may be limited to what you would have recovered had you sued in the appropriate lower Court, unless you had good reasons to commence the suit in the higher Court.
It is usually only worth suing an overseas defendant if he has assets in Singapore that you can enforce a judgment against.
If the defendant is overseas, you may commence legal proceedings by applying for leave (i.e. the Court’s permission) for service outside of Singapore’s jurisdiction.
If leave is granted, you will be able to commence legal proceedings by personal service of originating processes on that overseas defendant.
After being served a Writ of Summons, you have to enter a memorandum of appearance within 8 days or the claimant may enter “default judgment” against you. You also have to file a defence within 14 days of the last day to file your memorandum of appearance, or the claimant may also enter default judgment against you. You may file a counterclaim alongside your defence.
If you are served an Originating Summons, no memorandum of appearance needs to be filed; however, you have to file a reply affidavit within 21 days, and no further affidavit can be filed after that time without the Court’s permission.
A settlement agreement typically provides for the claimant to forbear from further litigation with no admission as to liability from the defendant, in exchange for a sum of money. However, it is unwise to enter into a settlement agreement without legal advice, as you would be giving up rights or sums of money without knowing your legal entitlements.
A settlement agreement is a contract.
For every clause that can be found in a settlement agreement, there would be a plethora of case law that interprets that clause. The nuances of every word in every clause would have been litigated and deliberated by lawyers and the Courts. Needless to say, “self-help” settlement agreements would not have taken all these legal issues into consideration.
The compensation awarded by the Court depends on the cause of action (i.e. the nature of your claim) and the specific facts of your case.
For example, compensation for breach of contract seeks to restore the claimant to the position as if the contract had been fully performed by the defendant. Broadly, the Court will consider (1) the wasted expenditures of the claimant in reliance of the contract; and (2) the loss of gains that the claimant would have enjoyed if the defendant had properly performed the contract.
Conversely compensation for tort claims seek to put the victim in the position as if the tort had not occurred. The Court may consider monetary losses, as well as non-monetary losses (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of reputation).
Legal costs may be charged based on an agreed lump sum or on an hourly rate. The costs charged by each lawyer may vary based on their standing, experience and nature of the legal work involved. Longer and more complex proceedings will, of course, incur higher legal costs than straightforward claims.
In civil litigation the general principle in awarding costs is “costs follow the cause” – meaning that the losing party will be made to pay a sum to cover the legal costs of the successful party.
If you are successful you usually will be awarded part of your legal costs; a higher amount may be awarded where your opponent conducted his/her case unreasonably and incurred unnecessary legal costs.
“Losing” the lawsuit may mean that your claim was dismissed, and/or your opponent’s claim was successful.
If your claim was dismissed, you may be ordered to pay a portion of the legal costs incurred by your opponent in defending your claim.
If your opponent’s claim was successful, the Court may grant the orders sought by him/her and you may be ordered to pay a portion of the legal costs incurred by your opponent in pursuing his/her claim.
Trials for simple commercial disputes may be held within six months to a year after proceedings are commenced. More complex disputes may take a few years before the matter is tried before a Court.
The length of trials varies from under 5 days for simple disputes to several weeks for complex matters.
Thereafter, judgment may be given by the Court immediately, or reserved (i.e. the Court may take a few weeks or several months to deliberate before rendering its judgment).
Other than litigating in Court, civil claims can also be resolved through negotiation, mediation or arbitration. Commencing negotiations, mediation and arbitration requires both parties’ voluntary participation.
Negotiations refer to discussions between parties with the aim of reaching a private settlement.
Mediation refer to discussions between parties which are facilitated by a mediator with the aim of reaching a private settlement. A mediated settlement may be recorded as an Order of Court.
Arbitration is like Court litigation, except that (1) proceedings are before an arbitral tribunal (instead of a Court), (2) proceedings are confidential, (3) parties may provide for their own procedural rules by agreement and (4) arbitral awards (i.e., the orders made by the arbitral tribunal) can be enforced internationally.