By Christelle Sim
Singapore is today a leading centre in the world for cross-border dispute resolution, alongside London, Paris, Geneva, and Hong Kong. Singapore’s legal system is well-regarded internationally for its fairness, transparency, and effectiveness. As an efficient and stable dispute resolution centre, Singapore is an attractive investment hub. To strengthen this position, Singapore has been constantly improving the efficiency of its legal system by implementing law reform initiatives. These include the establishment of a new Appellate Division of the High Court which came into operation on 2 January 2021 and the Courts (Civil and Criminal Justice) Reform Act, which was passed by Parliament on 14 September 2021. The most recent development introduces the new Rules of Court 2021 ("ROC 2021").
On 1 December 2021, the ROC 2021 was issued under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322) and will be implemented from 1 April 2022. The ROC 2021 seeks to enhance Singapore's civil justice system by simplifying rules and modernising the language, streamlining procedural steps and enabling greater judicial control of the entire litigation process. Ideals set out in ROC 2021 include (a) fair access to justice, (b) expeditious proceedings, (c) cost-effective work proportionate to the nature, complexity and value of the claim, (d) efficient use of court resources, and (e) fair and practical results.
Salient Features of ROC 2021
Simplified Court Terminology
The ROC 2021 uses simplified court terminology to facilitate a lay person’s understanding. For example, terms such as "subpoena" and "ex parte" will be amended to "order to attend court" and "without notice" respectively.
Commencement of Proceedings
An Originating Claim and an Originating Application (presently the Writ of Summons and Originating Summons respectively) will be valid for service for 3 months from their date of issue, regardless of whether they are to be served in Singapore or in another jurisdiction. An exception applies for an originating claim issued in admiralty proceedings, which is valid in the first instance for 12 months.
These amendments oblige claimants to take reasonable steps to effect service promptly and to enhance the court’s control over cases that are not progressing because the defendant has not been served.
Single Application Pending Trial
To control the number of applications that are filed, each party will only be permitted to make one application before trial to deal with all interlocutory matters.
Claimants will need to consider more carefully and be certain of their intention in pursuing their claims before commencing any proceeding. This aims to increase efficiency and cut costs of proceedings, by preventing parties from litigating in a step-by-step manner and, in the process, generating a chain of interlocutory applications and appeals before a case is ready for a trial.
Amendment of Pleadings
Parties can no longer amend pleadings once before the close of pleadings without the permission of the court. Pleadings may only be amended with the permission of the Court, or by written agreement between the parties not less than 14 days before the commencement
of the trial, except in a special case. The ROC 2021 sets out prescribed circumstances in which
such amendment will be allowed.
This also increases the efficiency of court proceedings by preventing parties from amending pleadings at the last minute, which often results in a wastage of court hearing time and possibly even the adjournment of the trial.
Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief (AEICs)
The court may order parties to file and serve AEICs (sworn statements by the parties' witnesses which will stand as their testimony at trial) before any production of documents.
Presently, AEICs are generally filed and served after the document production. Under ROC 2021, parties should ensure they have the necessary documents to establish their claim at the start of the proceedings. This is aimed at crystallising the disputed issues, narrowing the scope of disclosure, and preventing the adjustment of witness testimony to match disclosed documents.
Parties are to inform the court during the Registrar Case Conference if they intend to rely on expert evidence. They will also be encouraged to agree on a single joint expert. The court must approve the list of issues to be referred for expert evidence, which must also be agreed between parties. The court will approve the use of expert evidence only if it contributes materially to the determination of an issue in the case.
Amicable Resolution of Disputes
Parties have a duty to consider resolving a dispute by amicable resolution before and during litigation. Parties who refuse to do so may be ordered by the court to set out reasons for the refusal.
Presently, parties do not have an express duty to consider resolving their disputes by amicable resolutions. The implementation of this new rule aligns with the court’s move towards encouraging parties to explore alternative dispute resolution and increases efficiency by facilitating early resolution of disputes.
ROC 2021 seeks to boost the overall efficiency of the litigation process in Singapore while keeping legal costs reasonable, which thus increases access to justice for all.