Civil and Commercial Law

To initiate civil proceedings in Singapore, a litigant can commence action by an originating process (i.e. by way of writ of summons or originating summons).

Should the defendant wish to respond, he will normally enter an appearance to dispute the claim against him.

Thereafter, there will be an exchange of pleadings, discovery of documents, directions by the court, interlocutory applications for interim or final relief and, if the case has not been resolved by settlement (normally through negotiation or mediation) or terminated by summary or other form of interlocutory judgement, the action will be set down for trial.

The process does not stop here as a party, may wish to appeal against the final judgement or when there is enforcement of the judgement.

Commencing Action by Writ of Summons

Most civil actions in contract and tort are commenced by way of a Writ of Summons if there is a substantial dispute of fact. These include actions involving claims for relief or remedy in/for any tort, other than trespass to land; claims based on allegations of fraud; claims for damages for breach of duty where the damages claimed involves death, personal injury or property damage; and claims in respect of patent infringement.

Commencing Action by Originating Summons

For disputes arising in matters of law where there is no substantial dispute of fact, or the interpretation of a written instrument or statutory provision; or if otherwise required under any written law or the Rules of Court, the action is commenced by way of an originating summons. Originating summons is also used where an application is to be made to the Court or a Judge thereof under any written law.

In comparison with a writ, the Originating Summons procedure is cheaper, faster and simpler as it does not involve pleadings and many interlocutory proceedings.

However, should there be a substantial dispute of fact as the matter goes on, an action commenced by Originating Summons may be converted into a Writ action.

Factors for Consideration Before Commencing Action

  1. Time Bar
    There is a limitation period prescribed by law. In general, the limitation periods for the following causes of actions are as follows:

    1. Contract and Tort – 6 years
    2. Personal injury actions – 3 years; and
    3. Actions to recover land and execute on a judgement – 12 years
  2. Forum Conveniens
    Forum Conveniens is the natural forum is one with which the action has the most real and substantial connection. A potential litigant should also consider if Singapore is the appropriate forum to commence proceedings, otherwise the action may run the risk of being stayed, i.e. stopped, if there is a more appropriate forum elsewhere.
  3. Fees – Court fees and hearing fees
    The law has prescribed court fees to be payable at various stages of court proceedings, Fees are also payable when documents are filed with the court. Fees are also separately payable in respect of services such as sealing documents, providing copies of documents and the use of the court for hearings.

Hierarchy of the Singapore Courts

  1. Supreme Court
    • Court of Appeal
    • High Court
  2. Subordinate Courts (handles 95% of all court cases in Singapore)
    • Small Claims Tribunals
    • Magistrates’ Courts
    • District Courts