In review: court procedure in Singapore

i Overview of court procedure

Singapore’s civil procedure may be found in ROC 2021. An overview of court procedure is helpfully set out in a flowchart in Order 2 Rule 15 of ROC 2021. The flowchart covers matters relating to service, the filing of pleadings and case conferences.

Prior to ROC 2021, parties who desired to make interlocutory applications, such as specific discovery or further and better particulars, could do so at any time before the trial (usually before the exchange of affidavits of evidence-in-chief) on an ad hoc basis. Each interim application takes approximately one to three months to be disposed of. However, under ROC 2021, parties will have to consolidate all the interlocutory applications they wish to make into a single application pending trial[1]. Taking out a further interlocutory after a single application pending trial is no longer as of right. It is envisioned that this will bring about the more efficient conduct of legal proceedings.

After the single application pending trial is disposed of, parties then progress to the stage where they will exchange witness statements and prepare for trial.

ii Procedures and time frames

The time within which a claim reaches trial depends on many factors. While the normal time frame is 12 to 18 months from the date of commencement of originating claims, cases have been brought to trial as quickly as within six months. For originating applications where, in general, only one round of affidavits is filed before the matter is heard, this may take approximately three to five months.

Interlocutory applications under ROC 2014 typically take anywhere from one to three months to be disposed of. Under ROC 2021, parties have to make all the interlocutory applications (as listed in Order 9 Rule 9(4) ROC 2021) that they wish to make in a single application pending trial (SAPT). The time taken to dispose of the SAPT will likely depend on the number of interlocutory applications that parties wish to make.

Injunction prohibiting disposal of assets

Under Order 13 Rule 1(1) ROC 2021, a party may apply for a local or worldwide injunction prohibiting the disposal of assets (more commonly known as a Mareva injunction).

Order 13 Rule 1(3) ROC 2021 allows such an application to be made without notice (more commonly known as ex parte). However, the applying party must, by affidavit, explain the urgency, and why the defendant should not be informed of the application. In an even more urgent case, Order 13 Rule 1(2) ROC 2021 allows such an application to be made even before the originating process is issued.

Order to allow the entry into and search of premises

Under Order 13 Rule 1(1) ROC 2021, a claimant may also apply for an order to allow the entry into and search of premises. Similar to applying for an injunction prohibiting the disposal of assets, an application for a search order may be made without notice or before issue of the originating process, or both.

Proprietary injunction

Where an asset is the subject of the dispute itself, a party may apply for a proprietary injunction that prohibits the defendant from dealing with the asset and its traceable proceeds[2].

iii Class actions

Proceedings akin to class actions are permissible under Singapore law. However, they are not as prevalent as they are in jurisdictions such as the United States.

Order 4 Rule 6(1) ROC 2021 allows for persons who have a common interest in any proceedings to sue as a group, with one or more persons representing the group. A judgment or order that is given in such a class action suit is binding on all the persons and the class named[3].

iv Representation in proceedings

The general rule is that a litigant may represent themselves in proceedings. However, a litigant who is below 18 years of age must be represented by a litigation representative in proceedings[4]. A litigant who lacks capacity within the meaning of the Mental Capacity Act in relation to matters concerning the litigant’s property and affairs must be represented by a solicitor[5].

It is possible for legal entities other than natural persons to represent themselves. If the legal entity is a company, variable capital company or limited liability partnership, the entity may apply to the court to give permission for an officer of the entity to act on behalf of the legal entity[6].

v Service out of the jurisdiction

Under ROC 2014, there was an operative ‘gateway’ before service out of jurisdiction was allowed. The claimant had to show that the originating process fell within one of the categories listed in Order 11 Rule 1(1)(a) to (t) ROC 2014.

The framework under ROC 2021 is different. Under ROC 2021, where the defendant is to be served overseas, the claimant must make an application supported by an affidavit explaining the matters as set out at Order 8 Rule (2)(a) to (c) ROC 2021).

In relation to the requirement under Order 8 Rule 2(a) ROC 2021, the claimant should include relevant information showing the factors set out at Paragraph 63(2) of the Supreme Court Practice Directions 2021 (SCPD 2021).

Paragraph 63(3) of SCPD 2021 sets out the list of non-exhaustive factors that a claimant should refer to in support of his or her position that there is a good arguable case that there is a sufficient nexus to Singapore.

There is no need to make an application for service out of Singapore if such service is allowed under a contract between parties (Order 8 Rule 1(3) ROC 2021).

Once the court has given approval for the originating process out of Singapore, such service may be effected in the manners as set out in Order 8 Rule 2(1)(a) to (f) ROC 2021.

Leave to serve court documents other than originating processes out of jurisdiction must also be obtained[7]. However, if service of originating process outside of Singapore has already been granted by the court, there is no need for further court approval for service of other court documents[8]. For example, the Court of Appeal has held (under ROC 2014, which has substantially similar provisions) that permission to serve originating summons to transfer an appeal from the Appellate Division of the High Court to the Court of Appeal is not needed where leave to serve out of jurisdiction had already been obtained in the suit below[9].

vi Enforcement of foreign judgments

The enforcement of foreign judgments largely depends on the jurisdiction where the said foreign judgment was obtained.

Enforcement of foreign court judgments under the Choice of Courts Agreement Act 2016

Where a relevant foreign court is in a state that is a party to the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreement and the subject of an exclusive choice of court agreement between parties, judgments of that foreign court in connection with a dispute between those parties may be enforced in Singapore pursuant to the Choice of Courts Agreement Act 2016.

The foreign judgment creditor must comply with the requirements under Order 37 ROC 2021, including satisfying the Singapore court of the factors under Order 37 Rule 2 ROC 2021.

Enforcement of foreign court judgments under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act 1921 and the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act 1959

Under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act 1921 (RECJA), judgments obtained in superior courts of the United Kingdom and other commonwealth jurisdictions specified in the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments (Extension) (Consolidation) Notification may be registered and enforced in the Singapore courts. As of the date of writing, the jurisdictions to which RECJA is applicable include New Zealand, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brunei and India.

Under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act 1959 (REFJA), a judgment obtained in courts specified by subsidiary legislation may be registered and enforced in the Singapore courts. As of the date of writing, the only jurisdiction to which REFJA is applicable is the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Where the Choice of Courts Act is applicable, neither RECJA nor REFJA would be applicable.

A judgment creditor seeking to register a judgment under RECJA and REFJA must comply with the requirements under Order 60 ROC 2021.

Enforcement of foreign court judgments under the common law

Where the Choice of Courts Act, RECJA and REFJA do not apply, monetary judgments of foreign courts may be recognised and enforced pursuant to the common law.

The claimant must bring a fresh originating claim in the Singapore court, and must satisfy the court that:

    1. the judgment is for a definite sum of money;
    2. the judgment is final and conclusive;
    3. the judgment is rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, that is to say the defendant was present in the relevant jurisdiction or submitted to the relevant court;
    4. the judgment cannot be for a sum payable in respect of taxes, a fine or other penalty; and
    5. the judgment was not obtained by fraud or contrary to natural justice, or contrary to public policy[10].

vii Assistance to foreign courts

Singapore is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil and Commercial Matters (the Hague Evidence Convention)[11]. Singapore has excluded Chapter II of the Hague Evidence Convention, which governs the taking of evidence by diplomatic officers, consular agents and commissioners.

Under the Hague Evidence Convention, a judicial authority of a contracting state may make a letter of request to obtain evidence or to perform some other judicial act. The letter of request must specify the matters as set out at Article 3 of the Hague Evidence Convention.

Under the Evidence (Civil Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act 1979 (Evidence in Civil Proceedings Act), an application may be made to the General Division of the High Court for evidence to be obtained in Singapore. The High Court must be satisfied that the matters are set out as at Order 55 Rule 2(1) ROC 2021.

The High Court may order the following if it is satisfied that making such an order will give effect to the request. See Section 4(2)(a) to (f) of the Evidence in Civil Proceedings Act.

viii Access to court files

Members of the public have access to the courts’ hearing lists. For example, they will be able to find out the hearing date for a certain matter. Civil trials are typically held in open court, and interested members of the public may attend if they so wish.

A member of the public may also make an application to inspect court records. Under Order 26 Rule 3(4) ROC 2021, the Registrar may allow any person to search for, inspect and take a copy of any document filed in court if that person shows a valid interest in the document in question and pays the prescribed fee. If the application is approved, a member of public will generally be entitled to view:

    1. the originating processes and pleadings;
    2. interlocutory summonses, regardless of whether the hearing of said summons has been heard or concluded[12];
    3. affidavits (only if the underlying application has been fully heard and determined)[13];
    4. affidavits of evidence-in-chief, only after they have been admitted as evidence in trial[14]; and
    5. orders of the court.

Documents that are sealed are generally not available for access by a member of the public.

The official website of the Singapore courts publishes judgments issued by the High Court and Court of Appeal of Singapore.

ix Litigation funding

Under Section 5B of the Civil Law Act, third party funding is permitted for proceedings listed under Rule 3 of the Civil Law (Third Party Funding) Regulations 2017 (Regulations). Detailed requirements for third party funding arrangements are detailed at Rule 4 of the Regulations. However, a champertous agreement may be considered contrary to public policy, or illegal, and be declared void.

As the torts of champerty and maintenance were only abolished in Singapore in 2017, and there are detailed requirements that must be fulfilled before third party funding is allowed, this remains relatively uncommon in Singapore.

Authors: Sophia Ng and Suang Wijaya


[1] Order 9 Rule 9 ROC 2021.

[2] Ernest Ferdinand Perez De La Sala v. Compañía De Navegación Palomar, SA and others [2020] 1 SLR 950.

[3] Order 4 Rule 6(5) ROC 2021.

[4] Order 4 Rule (1)(a); Order 4 Rule (2)(1)(a) ROC 2021.

[5] Order 4 Rule 3(1)(a) ROC 2021.

[6] Order 4 Rule 3(3) ROC 2021.

[7] Order 8 Rule 1 ROC 2021.

[8] Order 8 Rule 1(4) ROC 2021.

[9] See Kuen and others v. PT Trikomsel Oke Tbk and another matter [2022] 2 SLR 239.

[10] Poh Soon Kiat v. Desert Palace Inc (trading as Caesars Palace) [2010] 1 SLR 1129,

[11] and

[12] Tan Chin Min v. The Royal Bank of Scotland Plc [2013] 4 SLR 529 at [17].

[13] ibid at [18].

[14] ibid at [23].


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