There are many reasons as to why someone might have commenced legal proceedings against you, in this article we will run through how you may wish to handle this situation. Please reach out to us directly should you require any assistance.
Should I be concerned about being sued?
The short answer is yes, if somebody is taking formal legal action against you, then you need to take it seriously, whether you feel it is justified or not. Whilst you may feel a law firm is biased on such a topic, we would strongly recommend that you seek immediate legal representation to review your situation and provide (if nothing else), some initial advice on what steps to take next.
You should also look to act quickly, as you will usually have a limited time window to make a legal response.
What happens in a Civil Case in Singapore
A civil case only begins when the plaintiff files a formal complaint with the Court and serves you a Writ of Summons – a legal document which is used to commence legal proceedings. Legal proceedings do not begin until the Writ of Summons has been served personally to you or your solicitor.
This Writ of Summons is usually accompanied by a statement of claim, which states the relevant facts on which the claim is based and explains what kind of ‘reliefs’ (i.e., compensation) the plaintiff is seeking against you.
What should you do if you receive a Writ of Summons?
Once you receive a Writ of Summons, you must act quickly to evaluate your options and work out a timeline. At this point, it is recommended that you seek legal advice. Only a qualified lawyer will be able to advise you on your available options, including whether your defence has merit and whether you can counter-sue the plaintiff.
You will have to decide whether you want to try to win the case by going to trial. If you believe you have a good defence or excuse against the plaintiff’s claim, you may contest the claim. To avoid higher legal costs and delays to the proceedings, it is strongly recommended that you file a Memorandum of Appearance by the deadline (within 8 days of service of the Statement of Claim). If you fail to submit a Memorandum of appearance by this deadline, you may be unable to defend your case, and a judgement may be given against you by default.
Can I ignore the Writ of Summons?
Though it may be tempting to ignore a Writ of Summons, this will unfortunately not make it go away. Instead, it could result in a default judgement being entered against you.
A default judgement will enable the plaintiff to take enforcement action against you if their application is successful. This could lead to your salary and bank account being garnished, your possessions can be taken from your home through a Writ of seizure and sale, and there is even the possibility of bankruptcy. Once such a judgment is entered, it may be more difficult and costly to have it reversed.
Do not ignore a writ of summons – act.
Is there a way to avoid trial?
It is not necessary for all matters to end up at trial. If you do not wish to go to Court, you have two main alternatives available:
- You can write to the plaintiff and accept their claim against you and pay whatever amount he or she is asking for. If the claim is for a small sum of money, this option may be cheaper than hiring your own lawyer.
- You could also attempt to settle with the plaintiff. This option is available at any point in the proceedings. If you and the plaintiff come to an agreement to settle the case, you must inform the Court. The lawsuit will then be discontinued or withdrawn once both parties have come to an agreement.
What is a Judgement in default of appearance?
If you do nothing (failing to file a Memorandum of Appearance), you are considered to have “defaulted” and must face the consequences.
A judgment in default of appearance will then be entered against you. This means that the plaintiff will likely receive whatever relief he or she is claiming in addition to any filing fees or Court costs related to the case.
This is not a good scenario, and you should act to ensure this doesn’t occur.
I wish to defend my case and have entered a Memorandum of appearance. What now?
You now have 14 days to prepare your defence. If you do not file a Defence within this 14-day period, the Court will deem that pleadings have closed and the Plaintiff is at liberty to apply for default judgement against you.
It is strongly recommended that you consult with a lawyer in preparing your defence. Preparing a defence is an important aspect when defending yourself in a lawsuit. While you may prepare the defence on your own, this document must be drafted in a particular manner which deals with the various elements of the claim that is being made out against you. Failing to particularise or draft the defence in such a manner could render your defence worthless.
If your defence is not well drafted, your defence may be struck out on the ground that it contains no valid defence to the claim of the plaintiff. The plaintiff could also apply to the Court for summary judgement. This means that the Court could determine the matter in favour of the plaintiff without a trial, meaning that you would lose the case even though you have filed a defence.
The Plaintiff is right but I also have a claim against him. What can I do?
If you believe that you also have a separate legal claim against the plaintiff, your lawyer can advise you on serving a counterclaim with the defence. You may be able to apply for summary judgement if the plaintiff has no defence to your counter-claim.
What happens before the trial?
Once the Defence and Reply (document prepared by the plaintiff in response to your defence) have been exchanged, both parties prepare for trial. This will involve a pre-trial conference (PTC) between the parties.
The plaintiff will apply to the Court for a ‘Summons for directions’ to determine the steps that need to be taken before trial. The Court may also order that the two parties proceed for mediation if parties are agreeable to having their dispute resolved through other means.
Preparing for the trial
Preparing for trial is highly complex. The focus at this stage is on gathering and exchanging evidence, which often takes the form of affidavits (written statements from witnesses to be used in Court). It is often necessary to submit additional applications for Court orders, such as
- Subpoenas –to ensure that witnesses attend trial;
- The discovery of documents – to require one party to give the other specific documents in its possession;
- Mareva injunctions – to freeze one party’s assets to prevent him or her from hiding money and property;
- Anton Piller orders – to require one party to allow the other to enter its premises to obtain required evidence before the other party destroys it.
What happens during the trial?
A trial is conducted by both parties’ lawyers. The plaintiff’s lawyers will usually commence the proceedings. Each of the plaintiff’s witness will then be cross-examined by the Defendant’s lawyers. If necessary, certain witnesses may also be re-examined. After all of the plaintiff’s witnesses have given evidence, the plaintiff’s case is closed. The defendant’s witnesses will then testify and be cross-examined by the Plaintiffs’ lawyers. After both parties have given evidence, lawyers will make closing submissions.
Judgement is either made immediately after the trial or if the matter is particularly complex, the Judge may also adjourn the proceedings to consider the arguments and evidence and instruct the parties on when to return for judgement.
In certain personal injury cases, the Judge may decide on the liability of the defendant but may take longer to decide on the amount of damages to be awarded.
If my Defence is unsuccessful, do I have any other options?
Once the Court has made its decision on a particular dispute, it will not make another decision on that matter. However, under specific circumstances, it is possible to appeal the Court’s decision only if your case has specific grounds for appeal. It is not possible to simply appeal because you are not happy with the outcome of your case.
What happens after the trial?
What happens after the trial depends on the Court’s judgement. The Judge may decide that one of the parties must pay some or all of the legal costs incurred by both parties.
If your defence is unsuccessful, you will likely be ordered to pay damages to the plaintiff or to settle your debts owing to the plaintiff. If you do not pay the money, there are numerous ways in which the plaintiff can enforce the Court’s judgement. The most common means is by the following:
- Examination of a Judgement Debtor
- Writ of Seizure & Sale
- Garnishee Proceedings
- Bankruptcy / Winding Up Proceedings
Examination of a Judgement Debtor (EJD) in Singapore
One of these ways is the Examination of a Judgement Debtor. You may be summoned by the Court to provide information on your money and property. This allows the Court to examine your assets so that the Court can decide on the best method of enforcing the debt. The Court also has the power to send you to prison if you do not attend this hearing.
Writ of Seizure and Sale & Garnishee Proceedings in Singapore
If you are unwilling or unable to pay the money that you owe, the plaintiff may apply to the Court for a Writ of Seizure and Sale, which permits the Court Bailiffs to enter your home and seize your property to be sold at auction to satisfy the debt.
The Bailiff is entitled to enter your home even when you are not at home and can break a door or window to gain entry. Additionally, the plaintiff may access money in your bank account by taking out Garnishee Proceedings.
If you are unable to pay after these options have been exercised, it may be necessary to declare yourself as a bankrupt. While you can file for bankruptcy yourself, your creditor is also able to apply for bankruptcy against you.
How can we help you?
We have experienced lawyers who are well versed in Civil Litigation. Should you find yourself in a situation where you are being sued, contact us at +65 6298 2537 or email us at [email protected] to schedule an appointment with one of our lawyers.