Written by Team Farallon | December 21, 2018
The writ of summons is a significant legal document in Singapore civil proceedings. It is also known as an originating summons. Its function is to commence such proceedings by informing the defendant that the plaintiff has initiated legal action against them. The parties to a civil matter are usually private parties and the types of disputes that they could engage in during the course of civil proceedings could be anything from contractual disputes to property disputes.
In cases where a writ of summons has been issued, it is sometimes preceded by a letter of demand. This letter articulates a set of demands to be met by the recipient and is usually sent to them by a law firm in Singapore on behalf of their client. The letter itself is not a formal court document and does not constitute the commencement of legal proceedings but it threatens legal action if these demands are not met within a certain period of time.
After the issuance of a letter of demand, the claimant may choose to commence legal proceedings. It is only if the claimant decides to commence legal proceedings that a writ of summons comes into play.
The general rule is that a writ of summons must be personally served on a defendant. This type of service takes place when a copy of the writ is delivered to the defendant by hand. The onus of serving the writ onto the defendant lies on the plaintiff.
Prior to the writ of summons being served on the defendant – or to their lawyer if instructions to this effect have been given – it has to be filed and processed by the court for issuance. The solicitor’s clerk or a process server then serves the issued writ on the defendant.
Upon filing, the time limit the Court grants for service of the writ must be adhered to although a time extension can be requested and subsequently granted.
Some law firms in Singapore elect to notify the defendant of civil litigation against them by way of a letter sent to their doorsteps. The contents thereto would request that the defendant collect the writ at the firm’s office. The defendant’s compliance would result in service being effected.
In instances where the plaintiff initiates legal proceedings against a company, the fact that the company is a juristic person means that service of the writ may be effected by serving it on a director of the company or any other officer in that company.
Substituted Service of the Writ
Where personal service is not possible, the Court may allow substituted service of the writ.
Substituted service takes place when the process server can serve the defendant indirectly by either giving the writ to a friend or family member who has been approved by the Court, sending it via the post or dropping it off
at the defendant’s workplace.
In scenarios where the first form of substituted service takes place, it should be published in a newspaper. The main thing the Court will want to ascertain is that personal service is impracticable and that numerous attempts have been made to execute personal service.
Circumstances under which substituted service may be permitted are where a defendant:
• leaves Singapore in order to evade service
• constantly moves from one country to another
• cannot be located.
Serving the Writ Outside Singapore
There can be instances wherein a plaintiff wishes to sue a party who is located outside Singapore. In such situations, the writ may be served on a defendant outside Singapore – subject to permission being obtained from the Court.
Often issued with the writ of summons is a court document known as a statement of claim. The following is generally set out in the statement of claim:
1. The particulars of the plaintiff and the defendant
2. The link between the parties
3. The obligations the plaintiff claims to have been breached by the defendant
4. If the plaintiff is alleging breach of contract, the material facts supporting the breach
5. The plaintiff’s losses as a result of the breach
6. The relief sought by the plaintiff
The first thing a defendant should do after receiving a writ of summons is to contemplate whether they would like to try to contest the case by going to trial. If they elect not to contest the claim, the plaintiff can apply for a judgement without trial – or “a default judgement”. In such a case, the Court will assess the sum of money that the defendant should pay to the plaintiff.
To contest the claim, it would then be advisable for the defendant to engage the services of a lawyer. Once the defendant has received the writ, they must enter their appearance by filing a memorandum of appearance in Court.
This is to inform the court that they wish to contest the case. It must be done within 8 days of the defendant receiving the writ. The defendant will then be required to prepare and file their defence within 22 days from the date on which the writ was served on them. It is also at this stage that the defendant may file a counterclaim if they wish.
There also cases where the defendant does not dispute the claim i.e. the defendant acknowledges that they owe the plaintiff. In these cases, the defendant can contact the plaintiff or their lawyer to negotiate a settlement and therefore minimise legal costs.
Ignorance of a writ does not eliminate the impending legal action against the defendant. It only opens up the possibility of the Court granting the plaintiff the relief they seek if their application is successful.
Question: I am a resident of Thailand but I own an apartment in Singapore. I have received a writ of summons from someone in Singapore. Does the Singapore Court allow service of a writ of summons outside Singapore?
Answer: Yes. According to the Singapore rules of court, cases in which service out of Singapore is permissible include but are not limited to the following:
• the defendant is running a business or has property in Singapore
• the claim is brought in order to enforce a contract which was made in Singapore
• the claim is based on a tort that is fully or in part due to an act or omission which occurred in Singapore
• the claim is made for the administration of the estate of a person who was domiciled in Singapore when he died.
Question: I would like to sue a company. How is a writ of summons served on a company?
Answer: Unlike human beings, companies are not natural persons and do not have hands in which the writ can be placed when it is served on them. Companies are juristic persons. As such, “an agent” of the company should accept service on its behalf. This can be a director of the company or any other officer of the company. Alternatively, the plaintiff may leave it at or send it by registered post to the registered office of the company.
Question: My company has just received a writ of summons. What should we do next? Can we file a Memorandum of Appearance without hiring a law firm?
Answer: For companies in Singapore, you are required to file your Memorandum of Appearance though a registered law firm. You need to file your appearance within 8 days of receiving the writ, which can be served to any officer of the company.
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