Dispute resolution in Court, also known as litigation, is a structured process encompassing activities that take place both before and after the lawsuit.
A judgment or order that is obtained by litigating in court is legally binding, and further measures may be taken to enforce it. However, litigation is an adversarial process that tends to be expensive and inexpedient compared to other forms of dispute resolution.
Types of litigation
In criminal litigation, the Public Prosecutor prosecutes a person who is charged for a criminal offence.
In civil litigation, a party brings an action in court to claim a remedy. He will be known as the Plaintiff in the action, whereas the person who is being sued and who may choose to respond to his complaint will be known as the Defendant.
A plaintiff can proceed in the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) for certain categories of claims of not more than $20,000. For other claims not falling under the jurisdiction of the SCT, the plaintiff may proceed in the State Courts, comprising the District Court and the Magistrate Court, or the High Court, depending on the amount the plaintiff is claiming.
Civil litigation process
Starting the process
The plaintiff will usually start a civil action by filing a writ of summons and serving it on the defendant. Once it has been served, a memorandum of service will be filed in court. The action could also be started by originating summons in certain cases where statute so requires, or where there are few factual issues and/or the matter comprises mostly legal issues.
The writ will often be served with a Statement of Claim, which sets out the main facts supporting the claim and the remedy that is being asked for. The Statement of Claim is often served with the writ. This sets out the summary of the material facts supporting the claim, and what are the remedies being asked for.
If the defendant chooses to defend the lawsuit, he would file a Defence, and may add a Counterclaim. If he chooses not to defend instead, the plaintiff can apply for default judgment against the defendant.
Subsequently, the Plaintiff may file a Reply to the Defence, and if there is a Counterclaim, a Defence to the Counterclaim.
These documents are known as the Pleadings, as they are the formal written statements of claims or defences where the parties plead their case.
The Discovery process is meant to reveal all documents that are relevant to the action. Parties must disclose and produce all such documents, even if they contradict their case. If a party suspects that the other party is withholding documents, he can ask the court for specific discovery of these documents.
After that, some documents will be reduced into written form to support the parties’ Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief (AEICs). AEICs are sworn statements from the witnesses that form the basis of their testimony at trial.
At trial, the judge presides over a court hearing. Parties will be cross-examined on the content of their AEICs by the opponent so that the court can make a decision about what weight to accord the evidence, starting with the plaintiff’s witnesses and followed by the defendant’s witnesses, Cross-examination will be followed by re-examination by the parties’ own lawyer. The parties will then make their final submissions, either orally or in writing, or both.
Finally, the judge will deliberate, make his decision and then deliver a judgment.
An unsatisfied judgment can be enforced in a number of ways, depending on the nature of the judgment. Enforcement proceedings include writs of execution, examination of judgment debtors, garnishee proceedings and committal proceedings.