This country-specific Q&A provides an overview of Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters laws and regulations applicable in Singapore.
What international conventions, treaties or other arrangements apply to the enforcement of foreign judgments in your jurisdiction and in what circumstances do they apply?
Singapore is a party to the Hague Choice of Court Convention 2005 (the “HCCC“). The HCCC has been incorporated in Singapore law via the Choice of Court Agreements Act 2016 (the “COCA“).
What, if any, reservations has your jurisdiction made to such treaties?
Generally, under section 8 of the COCA, the HCCC applies in every international case where there is an exclusive choice of court agreement concluded in a civil or commercial matter, subject to the exceptions under sections 9, 10 and 22 of the COCA.
These sections exclude the application of the HCCC in the following circumstances:
Exclusive choice of court agreements which relate to an employment contract, collective agreement, or consumer contracts;
wills and probate;
bankruptcy, insolvency, composition or any analogous matter;
carriage of passengers and goods;
matters relating to
limitation of liability for a maritime claim,
general average, and
emergency towage and salvage;
competition or anti‑trust law
liability for nuclear damage;
claims for personal injury or death brought by or on behalf of an individual;
tort claims or delict claims for damage to movable or immovable property not arising from a contractual relationship,
rights in rem in any immovable property or any tenancy of immovable property;
the validity, nullity or dissolution of any legal person, or the validity of a decision of the management of the legal person;
the validity of any intellectual property right (other than copyright and related rights);
the infringement of any intellectual property right (other than copyright and related rights) except any infringement proceedings that are or could have been brought for breach of a contract between the parties relating to that intellectual property right;
the validity of an entry in a public register; and
Arbitration or proceedings related to an arbitration;
Interim and interlocutory orders; and
Regulations by the Minister which provide for the recognition and enforcement by the General Division of the High Court of a judgment given by, and for the enforcement by the High Court of a judicial settlement approved by or concluded before, a court of a Contracting State (other than Singapore) designated in a choice of court agreement.
Can foreign judgments be enforced in your jurisdiction where there is not a convention or treaty or other arrangement, e.g. under the general law?
Apart from the COCA, a foreign judgment can be enforced under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act 1959 (“REFJA“) and the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act 1921 (“RECJA“). The RECJA and REFJA do not apply to judgments that may be recognised or enforced under the COCA.
If the RECJA, REFJA or COCA do not apply, enforcement proceedings must be commenced through common law rules.
What basic criteria does a foreign judgment have to satisfy before it can be enforced in your jurisdiction? Is it limited to money judgments or does it extend to other forms of relief?
Under the COCA, judgments from the court of a contracting state can be enforced. Such judgments include a final court decision on the merits or of any costs or expenses relating to the court decision, consent order, consent judgment, or default judgment. A foreign judgment is to be enforced only if the judgment is enforceable in the state of origin. In this regard, the Singapore Court (i) must not review the merits of the foreign judgment, and (ii) is bound by any findings of fact on which the court of origin assumed jurisdiction, unless the foreign judgment was given by default.
Under the RECJA, only money judgments of the United Kingdom and gazetted countries can be enforced. At present, gazetted jurisdictions include New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brunei Darussalam, Windward Islands, Papua New Guinea, India (except for the states of Jammu and Kashmir), the Commonwealth of Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Norfolk Island and Northern Territory.
Under REFJA, judgments enforceable are not limited to money judgments. In this regard, both interlocutory and final judgments from gazetted countries not in respect of taxes, or in respect of a fine or other penalty, may be enforced. Such judgments include a consent judgment, a consent order and a judicial settlement. However, at present, only the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is a gazetted jurisdiction.
Under common law, the enforcement of foreign judgments appears to be limited to money judgments. In this regard, the foreign judgment must be final and conclusive, given by a court of competent jurisdiction, and be a judgment for a fixed sum of money.
What is the procedure for enforcement of foreign judgments pursuant to such conventions, treaties or arrangements in your jurisdiction?
To enforce a foreign judgment pursuant to COCA, depending on whether the matter is governed by the Rules of Court 2021 or the Rules of Court 2014, an application would have to be made by way of an ex parte originating application or summons to the General Division of the High Court supported by an affidavit.
Upon the Court’s approval, the applicant would have to extract an Order of Court and serve the same, along with a copy of the foreign judgment, on each of the parties to the proceedings in which the foreign judgment was obtained, within 28 days after the Court’s approval.
If applicable, what is the procedure for enforcement of foreign judgments under the general law in your jurisdiction?
To enforce a foreign judgment pursuant to RECJA and REFJA, depending on whether the matter is to be governed by the Rules of Court 2021 or the Rules of Court 2014, an application would have to be made by way of an ex parte originating application or summons to the General Division of the High Court to register the foreign judgment supported by an affidavit.
Upon the Court’s approval, the Order of Court would need to be extracted by or on behalf of the judgment creditor and served on the judgment debtor
To enforce a judgment under common law, an individual can enforce a judgment by way of commencing a fresh civil claim for the Singapore court to recognise and enforce the judgment.
What, if any, formal requirements do the courts of your jurisdiction impose upon foreign judgments before they can be enforced? For example, must the judgment be apostilled?
For enforcement of a foreign judgment under COCA, RECJA or REFJA, if the whole or any part of a document to be submitted to the court, for instance, the foreign judgment, is not in the English language, the document must be accompanied by a translation in the English language.
Under the COCA, the translation must be certified by the translator and accompanied by a certificate by the translator stating the translator’s name, address and qualifications for making the translation.
Under the RECJA and REFJA, the translation must be certified by a notary public or authenticated by affidavit.
How long does it usually take to enforce or register a foreign judgment in your jurisdiction? Is there a summary procedure available?
Pursuant to RECJA, the process can take a month or so, depending on cirumstances.
If a party seeks enforcement of a foreign judgment under common law, the application to enforce or register a foreign judgment may be sought by way of summary judgment. However, under the provisions of the COCA, RECJA and REFJA, there does not appear to be a summary procedure available.
Is it possible to obtain interim relief (e.g. an injunction to restrain disposal of assets) while the enforcement or registration procedure takes place?
For enforcement of a foreign judgment under COCA, or to register a foreign judgment under REFJA and RECJA, the court may order any party to the enforcement application or proceedings to provide security for costs.
A freezing injunction may also be obtained in aid of the enforcement of a foreign judgment if there is a real risk of the debtor dissipating or disposing of his assets.
What is the limitation period for enforcing a foreign judgment in your jurisdiction?
Under the common law regime relating to the enforcement of foreign judgments, the limitation period is 6 years.
Under REFJA, the limitation period is 6 years after the date of the judgment, or where there have been appeals, after the date of the last judgment given in the proceedings.
Under RECJA, the limitation period is 12 months after the date of the judgment. This limitation period may be extended by the court’s discretion.
On what grounds can the enforcement of foreign judgments be challenged in your jurisdiction?
Under common law enforcement, the judgment would not be enforceable if it was procured by fraud, if its enforcement would be contrary to public policy, or the proceedings in which it was obtained were contrary to natural justice.
Similarly, under the statutory scheme, common grounds under RECJA, COCA and REFJA to challenge the enforcement of foreign judgments would be if the judgment was procured by fraud, or if its enforcement would be contrary to the public policy of Singapore.
More specifically, COCA distinguishes between circumstances which the Court must refuse enforcement, and circumstances which the Court may refuse enforcement.
The circumstances in which the court must refuse enforcement include:
The judgment debtor was not notified in sufficient time to enable him to defend the proceedings. This is unless the foreign jurisdiction allows for the notification to be challenged, and the judgment debtor had entered an appearance and submitted a defence without challenging the notification; or
The foreign judgment was obtained by fraud, or the recognition or enforcement is incompatible with Singapore’s public policy.
On the other hand, the circumstances under which the Court may refuse enforcement include:
The exclusive choice of choice agreement applicable to the foreign judgment is null and void, or a party to the agreement lacked capacity under Singapore law to enter into the agreement;
The judgment debtor had been notified of the foreign jurisdiction’s equivalent of a statement of claim in a manner which is incompatible with the fundamental principles concerning service under Singapore law;
The foreign judgment is inconsistent with a Singapore judgment, which concerns a dispute between the same parties;
The foreign judgment is inconsistent or another foreign judgment that satisfies the requirements of recognition under Singapore law, which concerns a dispute between the same parties on the same cause of action; or
There is a pending appeal against the foreign judgment, or the time for appeal against the foreign judgment has not expired.
Similarly, under REFJA, the statute distinguishes between circumstances under which the foreign judgment must be set aside, and circumstances under which the foreign judgment may be set aside.
The circumstances in which the court must set aside a registered foreign judgment include:
The foreign judgment does not satisfy the requirements under REFJA, or was improperly registered under REFJA;
The foreign court did not have jurisdiction;
The judgment debtor did not receive notice of the foreign proceedings in sufficient time to enable him to defend the proceedings, and did not enter an appearance; or
The rights under the foreign judgment are not vested in the enforcement applicant
The circumstances in which the court may set aside a registered foreign judgment include:
If the matter in dispute in the foreign proceedings, had, before the date the foreign judgment was passed, been the subject of a final and conclusive judgment by a court having jurisdiction in the matter;
If the notice of registration had not been served on the judgment debtor, or the notice of registration was defective; or
If there is a pending appeal of the foreign judgment.
Under RECJA, other grounds on which the court must refuse registration include:
(a) if the foreign court acted without jurisdiction;
if the judgment debtor (who is foreign to the foreign jurisdiction) did not submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign court;
if the judgment debtor, was not duly served according to the laws of the foreign jurisdiction;
if there is a pending appeal; or
if the judgment debtor is entitled to and intends to appeal against the foreign judgment.
Besides these statutory grounds, the Singapore Court has the discretion to refuse registration where it is shown that it is not “just and convenient” or where there is some other sufficient reason not to register the judgment.
Will the courts in your jurisdiction reconsider the merits of the judgment to be enforced?
A foreign judgment which satisfies all the requirements for recognition or enforcement is conclusive of the merits.
Will the courts in your jurisdiction examine whether the foreign court had jurisdiction over the defendant? If so, what criteria will they apply to this?
Under the REFJA, a foreign judgment would not be enforceable if the foreign court acted without jurisdiction.
In this regard, REFJA provides for circumstances under which the foreign court would be deemed to have had jurisdiction, and circumstances under which the foreign court would not be deemed to have had jurisdiction under ss. 5(3) and (4) of REFJA.
Similarly, under RECJA, a foreign judgment would not be enforceable if the foreign court acted without jurisdiction. However, RECJA does not stipulate the factors taken into consideration to determine if the foreign court had acted without jurisdiction. Further, under COCA, there is no such express stipulation as in the RECJA and REFJA.
Further, under the COCA, considerations in respect of the foreign court’s jurisdiction are considered when determining whether the dispute involves an exclusive choice of court agreement before COCA can be applied to enforce the foreign judgment.
Under common law, the Singapore Court will only enforce the foreign judgment if it is the final and conclusive judgment of a court which had “international jurisdiction”. In this regard, the Singapore Court is concerned with whether the foreign court had jurisdiction over the party sought to be bound, in accordance with Singapore private international law. For example, a foreign court can be said to have “international jurisdiction” where the judgment debtor had voluntarily submitted to the foreign court at the relevant time, or if the judgment debtor was present in the foreign jurisdiction at the material time.
Do the courts in your jurisdiction impose any requirements on the way in which the defendant was served with the proceedings? Can foreign judgments in default be enforced?
Improper service of the foreign proceedings on the judgment debtor may result in the Court refusing to either register or enforce the foreign judgment.
Under COCA and RECJA foreign judgments in default may be enforced. Similarly, common law, a default judgment can be considered to be final and conclusive, and in turn enforceable, so long as it satisfies the general test of finality.
Do the courts in your jurisdiction have a discretion over whether or not to recognise foreign judgments?
Are there any types of foreign judgment which cannot be enforced in your jurisdiction? For example can foreign judgments for punitive or multiple damages be enforced?
Under common law enforcement, the Courts will not enforce, directly or indirectly, a foreign rule that is in the nature of a penal, revenue or other public law
Under REFJA and COCA, portions of foreign judgments which damages exceeds a measure of damages on a compensatory basis would not be enforceable.
Can enforcement procedures be started in your jurisdiction if there is a pending appeal in the foreign jurisdiction?
Under the COCA, if there is a pending appeal, registration of a judgment can be refused.
Under the RECJA, if there is a pending appeal, the court will refuse registration. Under the REFJA, if there is a pending appeal, the registration of the foreign judgment may be set aside or the application to set aside the registration may be adjourned.
Under common law, enforcement procedures may be commenced even if there is an appeal pending in the foreign jurisdiction.
Can you appeal a decision recognising or enforcing a foreign judgment in your jurisdiction?
Can interest be claimed on the judgment sum in your jurisdiction? If so on what basis and at what rate?
Yes, interest can be claimed on the judgment sum at the rate ordered in the foreign judgment until the foreign judgment has been enforced in Singapore. The interest rate which is applicable to a local judgment would then apply.
Do the courts of your jurisdiction require a foreign judgment to be converted into local currency for the purposes of enforcement?
Local judgment will be given in the foreign currency, to be converted to a local currency at the time execution is authorised by the Singapore Court. This applies irrespective of whether common law, the RECJA, REFJA or COCA applies.
Can the costs of enforcement (e.g. court costs, as well as the parties’ costs of instructing lawyers and other professionals) be recovered from the judgment debtor in your jurisdiction?
Are third parties allowed to fund enforcement action in your jurisdiction? If so, are there any restrictions on this and can third party funders be made liable for the costs incurred by the other side?
What do you think will be the most significant developments in the enforcement process in your jurisdiction in the next 5 years?
The most significant developments would be the passing of the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (Amendment) Bill (the “Amendment Bill“) and the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments (Repeal) Bill (the “Repeal Bill“) on 2 September 2019.
The Amendment Bill amends the REFJA to increase the types of foreign judgments in civil proceedings that can be enforced in Singapore. This Amendment Bill came into operation as the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (Amendment) Act on 3 October 2019.
On the other hand, the Repeal Bill will repeal the RECJA on a date to be stipulated by the Minister. Once the Repeal Bill comes into operation, it will streamline Singapore’s legal framework on the statutory recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil proceedings, such that there will be a single statutory regime under the REFJA.
Has your country ratified the Hague Choice of Courts Convention 2005? If not, do you expect it to in the foreseeable future?
Yes. See Question 1 above.
Has your country ratified the Hague Judgments Convention 2019? If not, do you expect it to in the foreseeable future?
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