A Guide on Dispute Resolution in Singapore
A conflict is virtually inevitable wherever there is human interaction. Some of these conflicts may erupt a dispute in any structure of interaction or relationship, and others may perhaps result in a multifarious international hostility and confrontation.
Successively, dispute resolution processes have developed over a period of time to intervene and manage various types of disputes. Resultantly, there is a high diversity in fields in which non-profit organization and conflict resolution professionals take on a broad array of roles. In simple terms, dispute resolution is the process of resolving disagreements and arguments between individuals or different parties. There are various types of negotiations and resolutions which include but is not limited to, litigation, conciliation, arbitration, mediation, etc.
This article delves into the court structure in Singapore as well as their mechanisms for solving different types of disputes and the options available to distressed individuals or parties.
Introduction to Dispute Resolution Methods in Singapore
The main type of dispute resolution method practiced in Singapore is litigation. However, with the growth of expertise in arbitration in Singapore, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are largely being used in place of litigation.
The civil justice system in Singapore has stemmed from the Common Law adversarial model. Generally, the applicable standard of proof for any civil claim to succeed depends on the balance of probabilities. There is an active case management system which has been established by the Registry of the Courts, which allows the courts in Singapore to play a greater role essentially in minimizing all unnecessary delays in proceedings.
Further, SICC, short for Singapore International Commercial Court, was established in January 2015, primarily for the expansion of the scope of internationalization as well as the export of Singapore laws. Furthermore, with the increasing emphasis on the alternative dispute resolution, the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI) and Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) were established.
Structure of the Courts
The court system in Singapore is two-tiered:
- The Supreme Court (which is made up of the Court of Appeal and High Court)
- The State Courts
The Supreme Court
The High Court in Singapore is comprised of the judges of the High Court as well as the Chief Justice. In 1994, the Court of Appeal embarked at being the apex appellate court in Singapore. The Court of Appeal takes cognizance of appeals on judgements from the High Court in both criminal and civil matters.
A civil claim of a value greater than SG$ 250,000 must be commenced in the High Court in the first instance. Consequently, large valued commercial claims are directly brought before the High Court in Singapore. There are not any specific divisions within the High Court to hear a specific type of dispute. However, in order to deal with complex commercial cases, there is a specialized list of judges that deal with specific areas of law that have been set up within the High Court of Singapore. Some of the specialized areas set up in the High Court include:
- Securities, finance and banking;
- Insolvency, trusts and company;
- Insurance and shipping;
- Construction, shipbuilding, etc.
The above list is not exhaustive, but only intends to give a gist of the classifications.
The SICC is one of the division of the High Court which deals with disputes of commercial and international nature, and same was established pursuant to Section 18A of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act.
The State Courts
The State Courts in Singapore comprise of the Family Justice Court, the District Court and the Magistrates’ Court. For claims that do not exceed the value of SG$ 60,000, it is the Magistrates’ Court that hears the disputes. On the other hand, the District Court takes cognizance of the claims whose value does not exceed SG$ 250,000.
Further, the Family Justice Courts which consists of both, the Youth Courts as well as Family Courts, hears all cases related to family disputes including but not limited to, guardianship cases, divorce matters, family violence cases, applications for deputyship as under the Mental Capacity Act, successions matters, etc.
Generally, there are two ways to commence a civil proceeding in Singapore:
- Writ of Summons: These are for actions that are likely to include a substantial dispute of facts;
- Originating Summons: These are actions that are unlikely to include a substantial dispute of fact, or where it may be prescribed by law. For example, pursuant to Section 124(1) of Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act, it is clearly mentioned that all applications made to the court must be commenced by originating summons only.
Notice to the defence
The originating summons and writ of summons have to be personally served on each of the defendants. In the case where the defendant is within the jurisdiction, the same must be served within 6 months from the date of the issue.
After the summons has been filed, a Pre-Trial Conference (PTC) gets scheduled first. At this stage, the registrar enquires about the status of the action which has been commenced. Additionally, adequate direction is given to parties in order to proceed with litigation in a fair and expeditious manner. Further, at this stage, an application for either final or interim relief may also be made. Furthermore, each party discloses their documents which are relevant to the case, and in advance of trial, the parties exchange affidavits, which states the evidence that supports each party’s case.
In the case where the matter is resolved by way of terminated summarily, settlement or any other way of interim judgement, the matter proceeds to trial. At this stage, witnesses for each party (if applicable) state their evidence with regards to the affidavits submitted.
Once the court proceeding has ended, the solicitor or the advocate for the party that wins the case must submit a breakdown of the bill of costs incurred on behalf of the client, or the list of costs as ordered by the relevant authority or court to be paid by a party to the other. It is pertinent to note that litigation may continue even after the trial in case a party seeks to enforce the judgement, or when the judgement is appealed.
One of the party may bring the case to be dismissed even prior to a full trial in the ways mentioned below:
- In the case where the defendant does not appear or fails to file his/her defence within the specified time, a judgement in default can be claimed by the claimant.
- In the case where the defendant appears as well as files the defence though there happens to be no real defence to claim, summary judgement can be applied for by the claimant against the defendant.
- Pleadings are struck out if it:
- Does not disclose an adequate cause of action;
- Is frivolous, scandalous or vexatious;
- Tends to embarrass, delay or prejudice the fair trial;
- Is otherwise considered an abuse of the procedures of the court.
The appeals from SICC are heard by the Court of Appeal. It is pertinent to note that the Chief Justice may appoint an International Judge since it is at his discretion, who may sit in the Court of Appeal for an order or judgement of the SICC which has been challenged. Essentially, the time limit for the appeal a month (30 days) from the date of the judgement which needs to be challenged or appealed.