Explanatory notes for a general overview of a civil action from commencement till final disposal of action.
Commencement and Default Judgment Processes
1. Commencement of a civil action
A civil action begins by filing a court document pursuant to an originating process under the Writ of Summons or originating summons. The most common example of an originating process is a Writ of Summons. This Writ of Summons is filed as a suit in the District Court or Magistrate's Court, as the case may be, by the party making a claim (plaintiff)
and served on the party against whom the claim is made (defendant).
The District Court hears civil actions where the disputed amount does not exceed $250,000. Parties may also agree in writing to have the matter heard by the District Court, even though the sum in dispute exceeds $250,000. Where the plaintiff limits his
claim to $250,000, the District Court can also hear the case.
The Magistrate's Court has the power to hear civil actions where the disputed amount does not exceed $60,000.
2. Service of Writ
After the Writ of Summons is issued, the party making a claim (plaintiff) must serve the writ on the party against whom he is claiming (defendant).
3. Memorandum of Appearance
A defendant who receives a Writ of Summons must, if wishes to contest the plaintiff's claim, inform both the Court and the plaintiff of his intention by entering an appearance. He must file a memorandum of appearance in Court within 8 days after he has been served with the Writ of Summons.
4. Judgment in default of Appearance
If a defendant fails to enter an appearance within the time specified in the writ, the plaintiff may enter a judgment against him. This may be a final judgment or an interlocutory judgment, depending on the nature of the claim. The Court, may, upon an application, however, set aside or vary such a judgment as it thinks just.
Within 22 days from the date the defendant was served with the Writ of Summons, he must file his defence in Court AND also serve a copy of his defence on the plaintiff's address of service or on the plaintiff's solicitors at their office address, as the case may be.
If a defendant alleges that he has any claim or is entitled to any relief or remedy against the plaintiff, he may make a counterclaim in the same action brought by the plaintiff. In such a case, the pleading is known as the defence and counterclaim.
6. Reply and Defence to Counterclaim
A plaintiff may serve on the defendant his reply (and defence to a counterclaim), within 14 days after the defence (and counterclaim) has been served on him.
7. Judgment in Default of Defence
In the event that the defendant has been served the Writ of Summons and has entered an appearance but has no defence to the claim or any part of the claim or does not file any defence, the plaintiff may apply to the Court for judgment against the defendant. This may be a final judgment or an interlocutory judgment, depending on the nature of the claim. The Court, may, however, upon application made by the relevant party, set aside or vary such a judgment as it thinks just.
8. Summons for Directions
Summons for Directions occur at the time when parties need to determine what further steps need to be taken in order to effectively prepare for trial. Directions pertaining to the filing and exchanging of affidavits, the number of witnesses a party may require, and the number of days a case may require are decided at this stage. Parties will also need to agree on specific evidence such as expert advice or photographs to be used in trial.
9. Interlocutory applications
After a civil action is commenced, it usually goes through various stages before the trial actually takes place. During the pre-trial stages, both parties have to comply with the requirements set out in the Rules of Court, for example, those relating to giving further details of the facts of one's case, the gathering and exchange of documents to prove one's case and the preparation and exchange of witness statements (by way of affidavits of evidence-in-chief) which each party is relying on. In the course of preparing the case for trial during the pre-trial stages, each party may file interlocutory application to the court in order to further the preparation of his case.
Examples of common interlocutory applications are:
Application for discovery of documents: through this process, the Court can order that parties disclose to each other the documents in their possession, custody or power which are relevant to the matter in dispute between them
Application for the amendment of the various documents filed (eg the statement of claim, defence or reply) in relation to the matter in dispute
Application for default judgment: where a party applies for judgment or the dismissal of the claim without trial, as the case may be, on the grounds that the other party has failed to comply with any direction or order of the Court
Application for summary judgment: where the plaintiff applies for judgment without trial on the grounds that the defendant has no real defence to contest his claim.
Generally, interlocutory applications are initiated by filing a Summons, together with an affidavit to support the application. The Summons is a document that sets out the relief or orders which a party wishes to obtain from the court. The affidavit is a document that sets out the facts which a party seeks to rely on in support of the application or to oppose an application. An affidavit must be attested to before a Commissioner for Oaths.
When a Summons is filed it is usually heard by a Registrar or Deputy Registrar in Chambers.
10. Court Dispute Resolution (CDR)
Please click here to read more about CDR.
11. Setting Down
After the pleadings (such as the statement of claim, defence, reply) have been filed and the various pre-trial matters have been dealt with (including the disclosure of all documents and other evidence to be relied on at the trial to support each party's case), and parties are ready for trial, the case must be set down for trial. This is a necessary step which is to be taken by either party (usually the plaintiff) before an action goes to trial. Please refer to Order 34 of the Rules of Court for the detailed requirements and procedure to set an action down for trial.
12. Pre-trial conference (PTC)
Pre-trial conferences are sessions with a Judge to confirm that all pre-trial matters and applications are dealt with before the matter proceeds for Trial.
Trial & Post Trial Processes
Please see the pamphlet titled “How do I conduct a civil trial” for more information.
The judgment is the decision of the Court at the conclusion of the trial. The Court may pronounce judgment immediately after listening to the closing submissions. Alternatively, the Court may adjourn the case to take more time to consider the evidence and arguments. In such an instance, the Court will inform the parties on a later date to attend before the Court for the delivery of judgment.
15. Assessment of Damages
In certain cases, including personal injury claims, a Judge may grant judgment on the issue of liability but not make a ruling on the precise quantum of damages that has to be paid to the successful litigant by the other party. In such a case, the quantum of damages to be awarded is assessed by a Registrar in a hearing in chambers. The Registrar will hear evidence from appropriate parties, such as the injured plaintiff or medical experts, to determine the appropriate quantum of damages to be awarded
The Appeal Processes
16. Appeal to High Court
A party that is not satisfied with the judgment, he may file an appeal within 14 days from the pronouncement of the judgment. Before filing an appeal, the party should first ascertain if leave to appeal is required and obtain leave of the Court to appeal. Leave of the Court is required if the amount in dispute or the value of the subject-matter does not exceed $ 50,000. (Leave of the Court refers effectively to the permission of the Court).
17. Appeal to District Judge in Chambers
A party who is not satisfied with the judgment, order or decision made by a Registrar, may file an appeal to a District Judge and the Appeal will be heard by a District Judge in chambers. No leave (permission) from the Court is needed to lodge such an appeal. The party lodging the appeal must serve a notice to every other party involved in the proceedings to attend before the District Judge on a specified date. This Notice of Appeal in Form 112, Appendix A in the of the Rules of Court, must be issued within 14 days after the Registrar's judgment, order or decision was made and delivered to all parties within 7 days of it being issued.
18. Appeal to High Court Judge in Chambers
A party who is not satisfied with the judgment, order or decision made by a District Judge in chamber, may file an appeal to a High Judge in chambers. Leave of the Court is required if the amount in dispute or the value of the subject-matter does not exceed $ 50,000 The party lodging the appeal must serve a notice to every other party involved in the proceedings to attend before the High Court Judge on a specified date. This Notice of Appeal in Form 113, Appendix A in the of the Rules of Court, must be issued within 14 days after the Registrar's judgment, order or decision was made and delivered to all parties within 7 days of it being issued.
The Enforcement Processes
19. Enforcement of Judgment - Writ of Execution
Writs of Execution include Writs of Seizure and Sale of movable and immovable property, Writ of Delivery and Writ of Distress. These writs authorise the Bailiffs of the Subordinate Courts to enforce the unsatisfied judgment.
Please see "How do I enforce Judgment and Orders" for more information.
For the enforcement by way of Writ of Seizure of Sale of an Order of Tribunals, requiring a party to make payment of a certain sum of money, granted by the Small Claims Tribunals, please click here for more information.