What Is Writ Of Summons In Singapore And When To File One?

by 24 June 2024Knowledge & Insights

In Singapore, when people have a serious disagreement, or one person feels another has wronged them, they can’t just resolve it any old way. They use a formal process to deal with these disputes, starting with filing a writ of summons.

The writ of summons, now called originating claim in Singapore, is a legal document issued by the Court that says, “Hey, someone has a problem with you, and they’re bringing it to Court to resolve.”

This article will discuss the writ of summons, explain its filing process, and provide practical steps on what you should do if you receive one.

The Basics Of Writ Of Summons

What is the meaning of a writ of summons or originating claims? It is a formal legal document issued by a Singaporean Court that initiates the process of a civil claim. It should not be confused with a letter of demand, which aims to resolve disputes without Court intervention.

Writ of summons is a method by which a plaintiff (the party bringing the case) formally informs a defendant (the party being sued) that a legal action has been commenced against them and that they are required to respond within a specified period.

It is like a formal invitation to defend yourself in Court because someone believes you’ve done something wrong or owe them something. It’s a critical part of the legal system in Singapore that ensures everyone gets a fair chance to tell their side of the story in a structured and orderly way.


What’s In A Writ Of Summons?

If you receive a writ of summons, it means you are being sued, and the document will tell you what the lawsuit is about and what the person suing you wants from you. Here are the details that you will find in this Court document:

  • Court Information: The name of the Court where the lawsuit is filed, including the jurisdiction (e.g., High Court, District Court) and sometimes the specific division within the Court handling civil cases.
  • Case Number: A unique identifier assigned by the Court to the lawsuit for tracking and reference purposes.
  • Parties Involved: The names and sometimes the addresses of the plaintiff (the party filing the lawsuit) and the defendant (the party being sued). If there are multiple plaintiffs or defendants, they should all be listed.
  • Nature of the Claim: A brief description of the nature of the dispute or claim, which gives the defendant an idea of the lawsuit. It should mention the type of harm or damage claimed and the basis of the legal action (e.g., breach of contract, negligence).
  • Relief Sought: An outline of what the plaintiff is seeking from the Court, which can include monetary compensation (damages), an injunction (a Court order to do or stop doing something), specific performance (a Court order to fulfil a contract), or other forms of legal relief.
  • Statement of Claim: Some jurisdictions require a statement of claim to be attached to provide a more detailed account of the plaintiff’s allegations, the facts supporting the claim, and the legal basis for the relief sought.
  • Directions for Responding: Instructions on how and when the defendant must respond to the writ. This section includes deadlines for filing an answer, counterclaim, or any other formal response. It also informs the defendant about the consequences of failing to respond, such as a default judgment being entered against them.
  • Signature and Seal: The writ of summons must be signed and sealed by an authorised Court official or the plaintiff’s legal representative, indicating that it is a legitimate document issued by the Court.
  • Date of Issuance: The date on which the writ of summons is issued by the Court, which is vital for determining deadlines for responses and other time-sensitive actions in the lawsuit process.


When To File Writ Of Summons?

The writ of summons should be filed by the individual or entity that alleges they have been wronged, harmed, or suffered a loss due to the actions or inactions of another party, referred to as the defendant.

Here are some scenarios when a plaintiff might file a writ of summons:

  • Breach of Contract: If someone agreed to sell goods or provide a service and didn’t deliver as promised, the affected party could file a lawsuit to claim damages due to breach of contract or enforce the terms of the contract.
  • Personal Injury: If someone is injured due to another person’s negligence—like in a car accident or a slip and fall incident—they can file a writ to seek compensation for their injuries, medical expenses, and other related losses.
  • Property Disputes: Issues over property ownership, boundary disputes, or damage to property can lead to filing a writ of summons to resolve the matter through legal means.
  • Employment Disputes: Disagreements over wrongful termination, unpaid wages, or other employment rights issues can prompt an employee to file against the employer.
  • Family Law Matters: While not always through a writ of summons in every jurisdiction, disputes involving divorce, child custody, or division of marital assets can lead to Court proceedings.


Why Timing Is Crucial When Filing Writ Of Summons

Timing for filing an originating claim is crucial and varies based on the type of case and the legal jurisdiction.

There are statutes of limitations that set deadlines for when a lawsuit can be filed, starting from the date the plaintiff became aware of the harm or the incident occurred. Failing to file within this period can result in losing the right to have the case heard in Court.

For example, in personal injury cases, there’s often a specific timeframe (which can vary from one to several years, depending on the country or state) within which the lawsuit must be filed. In contract disputes, the time frame might rely on the terms of the contract itself or statutory limits.


Steps In Filing Writ Of Summons

Filing an originating claim or writ of summons involves several stages, from drafting the writ to its submission and subsequent service on the defendant. Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure you navigate this process correctly.

Step 1: Drafting The Writ Of Summons

Before anything else, drafting the writ of summons requires meticulous attention to detail. It should identify the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) involved in the case, the statement of the claim, and the relief sought.

You should seek legal advice when drafting this document to ensure it complies with all legal requirements and effectively communicates the basis of your claim.

Step 2: Where To File

The writ must be filed with the appropriate Court. In Singapore, the High Court handles civil cases where the claim amount exceeds a certain threshold, while the State Courts (including Magistrates’ and District Courts) deal with cases involving smaller sums.

Choosing the right Court is crucial, as it affects aspects of the case, such as procedural rules and potential costs.

Step 3: Submitting The Writ

Once the writ is prepared, it must be submitted to the Court clerk at the relevant Court office. The filing process may involve:

  • Filing fees: Pay the required fee, which varies based on the Court and the nature of the claim. Fee schedules are available on the Singapore Courts website or directly from the Court’s office.
  • Document submission: Submit the original writ along with any required copies and accompanying documents. The Court may require these documents in both physical and electronic forms.

Upon successful submission, the Court will issue an official stamp on the writ, marking it as filed. The stamped writ is a crucial document that must be served on the defendant.

Step 4: Serving The Writ On The Defendant

The plaintiff should serve the writ to notify the defendant of the lawsuit through:

  • Personal service: Delivering the writ directly to the defendant or authorised representative.
  • Registered post: Sending the writ by registered mail, ensuring it reaches the defendant’s last known address.
  • Substituted service: If the defendant cannot be reached through usual means, the Court may allow alternative service methods, such as publication in newspapers or online platforms.

Proof of service must be filed with the Court, usually as an affidavit of service, to demonstrate that the defendant has been properly notified.

Proper service helps to prevent abuse of the legal process by ensuring that litigation cannot proceed in secret or without the knowledge of those directly affected. This transparency is crucial for the integrity of the legal system.

Step 5: Awaiting The Defendant’s Response

After the writ has been served, the defendant has a specified period (usually within 8 to 21 days, depending on the method of service and other factors) to respond.

The response can take the form of entering an appearance, filing a defence, or, in some cases, counterclaiming against the plaintiff. The case progresses based on the defendant’s reaction, moving towards pre-trial procedures or settlement discussions.


What To Do If You Received An Originating Claim?

If you receive an originating claim, it’s a clear indication that legal proceedings have been initiated against you, signalling the commencement of civil proceedings. The first step is to review this formal Court document thoroughly.

Note the time limits specified for your response to avoid a default judgement, where the Court may decide against you in your absence. Here’s a streamlined approach to dealing with this situation:

Seek Legal Advice Promptly

Engaging a lawyer or consulting with law firms specialising in civil actions is crucial. Legal professionals can offer guidance on the nature of the claim, whether it pertains to property damage, road accidents, industrial accidents, or breach of contractual terms, and advise on the best course of action.

Law firms are well-versed in the rules of the Singapore Court and can help navigate legal action.

Options For Responding

Based on your lawyer’s advice, you might decide to defend against the claim, negotiate a settlement, or make an interlocutory application. If you choose to defend, you must file a Memorandum of Appearance with the Court within the stipulated time limit, showing your intention to contest the claim.

Service Of Documents

If the defendant leaves Singapore or cannot be located, substituted service may be arranged, such as through registered mail, to ensure the defendant complies with the Court’s notice.

Accepting the service of the summons and understanding its material facts are foundational steps in preparing your defence.

Preparing Your Defence

Gathering documents, identifying witnesses, and compiling evidence is essential to building your defence. Your lawyer will assist in drafting a statement of defence outlining your counterarguments to the plaintiff’s claims. Preparing your defence is vital for the trial and any preceding interlocutory applications.

Filing And Serving Your Response

Ensuring that your defence and any other required documents are filed with the Court and served on the opposing party within the specified time limits is paramount. This formal exchange of documents is a key aspect of civil proceedings.

Attending Court Hearings

Your presence may be required at Court hearings or mediation sessions. Throughout this period, maintain open communication with your lawyer to ensure you are well-prepared for each stage of the process.

Consider Settlement Options

Even after civil proceedings commence, settlement remains a viable option. Negotiating a settlement can provide a resolution that avoids the unpredictability of trial outcomes.


Conclusion About Writs Of Summons Or Originating Claims

The writ of summons or originating claim is a legal document that notifies the defendant of a lawsuit and requires them to respond within a specified time.

For the plaintiff, it is an essential step in initiating the legal process to resolve a dispute or claim. For the defendant, it is a reminder to defend themselves in Court and to take the necessary steps to protect their interests.

Overall, the writ of summons ensures that all parties have a fair chance to present their side of the story in a structured and orderly way, leading to a just resolution of the dispute.

Whether you are planning on filing a writ of summons or need legal advice on serving your response, Tembusu Law can help. We have trusted lawyers who are experienced in handling civil claims in Singapore. Contact us for a free consultation.


Frequently Asked Questions About Writs Of Summons Or Originating Claims

What Happens If The Defendant Ignores The Writ Of Summons?

The defendant should not ignore the Writ of Summons or defend the claim within the specified time limits; otherwise, the plaintiff may apply for a default judgement. The Court may decide the case in favour of the plaintiff without a trial based on the evidence presented by the plaintiff alone.

Can I Settle The Claim After A Writ Of Summons Is Issued?

Yes, parties can still negotiate a settlement even after issuing a Writ of Summons. In many cases, Courts encourage settlement to resolve disputes without needing a full trial. Settlement can occur at any stage of the legal proceedings.

What Are The Potential Outcomes Of Civil Proceedings?

The potential outcomes of civil proceedings initiated by a Writ of Summons include a judgement in favour of the plaintiff, a dismissal of the case, a settlement between the parties, or a decision in favour of the defendant if they have filed a counterclaim.

The Court may also decide on the relief to be granted, including monetary damages, specific performance of contractual terms, or injunctive relief.

Can The Court Decide On Damages Without A Trial?

Yes, in cases where a default judgement is granted because the defendant fails to respond, the Court may decide on the damages resulting from the claim without a trial.

However, the plaintiff may be required to provide evidence of their damages, and the Court may hold a hearing to assess the appropriate amount of damages to be awarded.

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