The Singapore Rules of Court is an omnibus legislation that sets out the procedural rules that are applicable to civil and appellate proceedings. On 1 December 2021, the new Singapore Rules of Court (the "ROC 2021") were published in the Government Gazette. The ROC 2021 will come into effect on 1 April 2022 and apply to all civil proceedings and appeals filed from 1 April 2022 onwards.
The ROC 2021 is an overhaul of the current civil procedure regime of the Rules of Court (2014 Rev Ed) (the "current ROC"). The legislative changes have been introduced in hopes of achieving the following ideals as set out in the ROC 2021:
- fair access to justice;
- expeditious proceedings;
- cost-effective work that is proportionate to the nature and importance of the action, complexity of the claim and value of the claim;
- efficient use of court resources; and
- fair and practical results that is suited to the needs of the parties.
The amendments introduced by the ROC 2021 are extensive. This article does not exhaustively cover the amendments to the civil procedural rules that have been introduced by the ROC 2021; some of the key provisions that are applicable to High Court proceedings are explored below.
Commencement of proceedings
A claimant may commence proceedings by way of an originating claim ("writ of summons" in the current ROC) or an originating application ("originating summons" in the current ROC). In general, where the matter involves material facts in dispute, the claimant files an originating claim to commence proceedings.
The ROC 2021 imposes timelines for services to ensure that service of the originating processes is carried out expediently.
Depending on whether the originating claim is to be served in Singapore or outside Singapore, the claimant has 14 or 28 days, respectively, from the date of issuance of the originating claim to serve the document on the defendant.
After the originating claim is served on the defendant, the statement of claim must be served within 14 days. After the defendant has been served, they must file and serve:
- a notice of intention to contest or not to contest the claim within 14 days (if they were served in Singapore) or 21 days (if they were served out of Singapore) of service of the statement of claim; and
- a defence to the originating claim within 21 days (if they were served in Singapore) or five weeks (if they were served outside Singapore) of service of the statement of claim.
If parties intend to file further pleadings (such as a reply), they must seek the Court's approval.
Separately, parties can amend their pleadings only with the Court's leave or by written agreement, and no less than 14 days before the commencement of trial. The Court will not allow pleadings to be amended less than 14 days before trial commences, save for exceptional reasons.
If the originating application is to be served in Singapore, the claimant must serve the originating application within 14 days of issuance (if the defendant is served in Singapore) or 28 days (if the defendant is served outside Singapore) of the originating application. Thereafter, a defendant must file and serve the defendant's affidavit within 21 days (if the defendant was served in Singapore) or five weeks (if the defendant was served outside Singapore) of being served the originating application and affidavit, if the defendant wishes to introduce evidence in respect of the originating application filed against the defendant.
If the defendant fails to comply with the above filing deadlines, the claimant may apply for judgment to be given against the defendant.
The Court will fix a case conference for the matter eight weeks (where the defendant is served in Singapore) or 12 weeks (where the defendant is served outside Singapore) after the originating claim or originating application is issued.
Single application for all interlocutory proceedings
Under the current ROC, parties can commence discrete interlocutory applications at any point in the course of the proceedings. Under the ROC 2021, the Court will direct the parties, as far as possible, to consolidate their interlocutory applications into a single application pending trial (SAPT). Such interlocutory applications include:
- security for costs;
- further and better particulars of pleadings;
- amendment of pleadings;
- striking out of part of action or of the defence; and
- production of documents or discovery.
The parties will be directed to file and serve their SAPT and supporting affidavit within 21 days of the case conference being issued. The responding party will have 21 days thereafter to file and serve their affidavit in reply.
If the parties intend to file any of the applicable interlocutory applications after the SAPT, the parties must seek the Court's leave to do so by way of a letter setting out the essence of the intended application and the reasons why it is necessary at that stage of the proceedings.
Penalties for failing to comply with Court directions
Unlike the current ROC, the ROC 2021 empowers the Court to impose penalties on those that fail to comply with the filing timelines or impose a page limit prescribed by the Court. Generally, page limits will be imposed for written submissions in originating applications or opening statements.
Among the penalties that the Court may impose on non-compliant parties is the imposition of a late filing fee of 50 Singapore dollars ($36.56) for each day (excluding non-court days) after the court deadline that a document remains unfiled. Separately, for interlocutory applications which should have been dealt with under the SAPT, the Court will also impose a late filing fee of at least 500 Singapore dollars ($365.61) per application.
Likewise, if any party exceeds the prescribed page limits for written submissions or opening statements, they will face a filing fee of 10 Singapore dollars ($7.31) per exceeded page (for the first 10 pages or less) or a filing fee of "N + 10 Singapore dollars" per page for every subsequent 10 pages or less, where "N" is the fee payable per page for the previous 10 pages, subject to a maximum of 100 Singapore dollars (per page $73.12).
Two major observations can be made as regards the ROC 2021.
First, compared to the current ROC, the ROC 2021 appears to emphasise the expeditious resolution of claims. The litigation process appears to have been simplified under the ROC 2021. Moreover, the ROC 2021 implements strict timelines for the filing and service of pleadings, with additional filing fees on those who fail to comply with the timelines.
Second, the ROC 2021 gives the Court a wide discretion "to order otherwise in the interest of justice, even if [the provisions in ROC 2021] are expressed using imperative words such as "must", "is to" or "shall"". This discretionary power allows the Court to mete out tailored justice depending on the facts and development of the matter, as well as remedy any potential injustice or unfairness that arises from the strict administration of the rules in the ROC 2021.
For further information on this topic please contact Zhida Chen or Shi Yin Kim at Helmsman LLC by telephone (+65 6816 6660) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Helmsman LLC website can be accessed at www.helmsmanlaw.com.