Written by Team Farallon
Previously in Singapore, when a creditor won a court judgment against a debtor, and the debtor did not follow the judgment’s terms, there were legal avenues to ensure compliance. One such method was through “garnishee proceedings.” In this context, a “garnishee” was a third party who owed money to the judgment debtor.
When the court ordered the garnishee to pay the creditor the amount of the judgment debt, it changed the garnishee’s obligation. Initially, the garnishee owed money to the judgment debtor, but after the court order, their responsibility shifted to paying the judgment creditor.
For instance, if the creditor was aware that the debtor had funds in a specific bank account, they could request a “garnishee order” from the court. This order compelled the bank to transfer the amount of the judgment debt directly to the creditor. Essentially, the bank would be directed by the court to use the funds in the debtor’s account to satisfy the debt owed to the creditor. This legal process ensured that the creditor could collect the money they were owed even when the debtor was not complying voluntarily with the court’s judgment.
The implementation of new Rules of Court (ROC 2021) in Singapore were introduced to ultimately transform the civil litigation landscape. The new Rules of Court had been in development for some time and were originally planned to be effective by the end of 2021. However, they were officially gazetted on 1 December 2021 and scheduled to come into effect on 1 April 2022. These rules apply primarily to civil proceedings that commence on or after 1 April 2022.
The reform’s aim is to bring about significant changes to the civil justice system in Singapore. The goal is to modernise and enhance the efficiency and speed of adjudication while also controlling costs. Some key points for the changes made in ROC 2021 include:
The Civil Justice Commission had been tasked with simplifying the rules and updating legal language without discarding established legal concepts. As part of this effort, certain legal terms and phrases are being changed to be more user-friendly and modern.
For example, a “garnishee order” is now known as an “enforcement order for attachment of a debt.” A party seeking to enforce a judgment is now known as the “enforcement applicant”. A party against whom an enforcement order is sought or made is now known as the “enforcement respondent.”
Also, a “writ of execution” is now referred to as an “enforcement order”. The term “execution” has been replaced with “enforcement” in the ROC 2021, and this change applies not only to the rules specifically for 2021 but also in legislation in general where these terms are used interchangeably. This standardisation ensures consistency in legal language and interpretation.
Under the previous Rules of Court 2014 (ROC 2014), a judgment creditor (now referred to as an “enforcement applicant”) had to submit separate applications for different enforcement methods. For example, if they wanted to pursue garnishee, writ of seizure and sale, and writ of possession, they needed to file separate applications for each. The ROC 2021 has made a significant change to this process.
Under the ROC 2021, the enforcement applicant can now submit a single application under Order 22 Rule 2 ROC 2021 to seek multiple different enforcement orders simultaneously. This change potentially saves a considerable amount of time and costs compared to the previous approach of multiple separate applications.
Order 22 Rules 6(1) – (2) of ROC 2021 specify how the enforcement orders should be carried out by the Sheriff. If the enforcement order indicates a sequence, the Sheriff is obliged to follow that sequence. However, if no sequence is specified, the Sheriff has the discretion to carry out the enforcement terms in any order.
Another advantage of the new system is that it returns control to the enforcement applicant. At the application stage, the applicant can request a specific sequence for enforcement. This allows the enforcement applicant to make strategic decisions on how to realise the successful litigation results effectively.
When seeking to enforce an order or judgment, the party who wants to enforce it must submit a single application. This application can be for one or multiple methods of enforcement. They can do this by filing a summons without giving prior notice to the other party (the enforcement respondent) to obtain an enforcement order.
The enforcement applicant can apply to enforce the court order three days after it has been served on the enforcement respondent.
To initiate the enforcement process, the applicant must fill out a summons without notice. They can use Form 38 found in either Appendix A2 to the State Courts Practice Directions 2021 or Form 38 of Appendix A to the Supreme Court Practice Directions 2021.
The summons must be supported by an affidavit. An affidavit is a written statement of facts sworn under oath, and in this context, it must contain the information specified in Order 22 Rule 2(4) of the Rules of Court 2021.
Do note that if the enforcement applicant is seeking to enforce the order using more than one method, they need to specify their preference regarding how the Sheriff (the enforcement officer) should carry out the enforcement. The applicant can choose to have the methods of enforcement carried out in a particular sequence or simultaneously.
The supporting affidavit must include a written undertaking, which is a formal promise made by the enforcement applicant (the party seeking to enforce the court order) or their solicitors (lawyer) if they have legal representation.
The undertaking serves as a commitment to the following three specific actions:
This enforcement order empowers the Sheriff to seize and sell property that belongs to the enforcement respondent. The Sheriff can take possession of the specified property and then conduct a sale, usually through an auction or public sale, to convert the property into cash. The proceeds from the sale are then used to satisfy the debt or obligation owed by the enforcement respondent.
With this enforcement order, the Sheriff is authorised to seize and deliver or hand over possession of a particular property that is currently in the possession or under the control of the enforcement respondent. The property is taken and delivered to the party or individual entitled to it as per the court order.
This enforcement order allows the Sheriff to attach a debt owed to the enforcement respondent by a third party (non-party). The third party may owe money to the enforcement respondent immediately or at a future date or in certain intervals. This includes debts held in financial institutions and due to the enforcement respondent, regardless of whether the deposit has matured or any withdrawal restrictions.
This enforcement order instructs the Sheriff to carry out specific directions mentioned in the court order. The court may have issued specific actions or tasks that the enforcement respondent must perform, and if they fail to do so, the Sheriff can enforce compliance.
An enforcement order is initially valid for 12 months, starting from the date it is issued. This means that the Sheriff (the enforcement officer) has a 12-month period within which they can carry out the enforcement actions specified in the order.
If there is a need to extend the validity of the enforcement order beyond the initial 12 months, an application for extension must be made to the court before the order’s expiration date. If approved, the court may extend the validity of the enforcement order for an additional 12 months.
In case of an extension, the priority of the enforcement order remains based on its original date of issue. This means that even with an extended validity, it is still treated as if it was issued on the original date.
In certain situations, a party who is obligated under a court order may apply for a “stay of enforcement” or “stay of any enforcement order” or a specific part of the order. This means that they are requesting a temporary halt to the enforcement actions, even though the court order has been issued and is valid.
A stay of enforcement can be sought if there is a special case that makes it inappropriate or impractical to enforce the court order immediately. The stay can be ordered for a specific period or until a particular event takes place, as determined by the court.
Subject to Order 22 Rule 6(11) of Rules of Court 2021, the Sheriff is responsible for executing all methods of enforcement, including the attachment of a debt owed to the enforcement respondent.
The Sheriff can physically take possession of movable property (e.g., items that can be moved or transported) that belongs to the enforcement respondent. This might involve removing the property from its current location and taking it into the custody of the Sheriff.
The Sheriff may affix their official seal on movable property. This action serves as a notice of seizure and indicates that the property is now under the control of the Sheriff.
When the Sheriff seizes movable property, they will serve a formal notice of seizure to the person or entity that currently possesses or controls the property. This notice informs them of the enforcement action and the change in property ownership.
For immovable property (e.g., land or buildings), the Sheriff may post a notice of seizure in a conspicuous location on the property. This notice serves as a public declaration that the property is under enforcement action.
In cases involving title to immovable property, the Sheriff can serve a notice of seizure to the Singapore Land Authority. This notice informs the authority of the enforcement action and the change in property ownership.
When a debt is owed to the enforcement respondent by a third party (non-party), the Sheriff can serve a notice of attachment on the financial institution or the party responsible for holding the money.
In situations involving bonds, shares, other securities, or memberships in clubs or societies, the Sheriff can serve a notice of seizure to the relevant registrars. This notice informs them of the enforcement action and may affect ownership rights.
There are specific procedures for handling claims and objections to the seizure of property or attachment of a debt carried out by the Sheriff during the enforcement process. Some key points to consider are the following:
If you object to the seizure of your property or the attachment of a debt by the Sheriff, you must file a “notice of objection” within 14 days of receiving the notice of seizure or attachment.
Additionally, you must serve a copy of the notice of objection on the following parties within the same 14-day period:
If the enforcement applicant does not agree to release the property or debt in response to your objection within 14 days, the Sheriff may direct you to apply to the court for an order to release the specified property or debt. In such a case, you must:
If you fail to follow the above steps within the specified timeframes, your objection is considered withdrawn.
If you agree with the reasons stated in the objection to the seizure of property or attachment of a debt, you must notify the Sheriff and the objector in writing within 14 days of receiving the objection. You must state your consent to release the specified property or release the debt from attachment. The Sheriff will then act accordingly and release the property or debt.
If you do not consent to the release or if you dispute the objection within 14 days of receiving it, the Sheriff may direct the objector to apply to the court for an order to release the property or debt. The objector must then follow the steps mentioned earlier, such as applying by summons with an affidavit and serving the necessary parties.
In summary, this article explains some of the changes introduced in the ROC 2021 to streamline the enforcement of judgments. These changes allow for a more efficient process by using standardised terminology and permitting the enforcement applicant to seek multiple enforcement orders in a single application, with the flexibility to determine the sequence of enforcement. This gives the enforcement applicant greater control and the ability to make strategic decisions on how to realise the benefits of their successful litigation.
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