1. Overview of Criminal Justice Process
Criminal Justice Model
The criminal justice process is founded on two core principles. First is the supremacy of the rule of law. Second is the protection of the public.
Maintaining social harmony in a diverse nation like Singapore is key to our survival. There is, in fact, a common understanding that no one, including the government, is above the law. Such respect for the law allows us to preserve social order but social cohesiveness. Singapore is safe because our State Courts deter crime and the best way to do so is to consistently give out sentences that reflect the sanctity of the law.
As guardians of the rule of law, the State Courts seek improvement by constantly reviewing their work processes, implementing new initiatives and strengthening their strategic partnerships with external agencies—both within and outside Singapore. These efforts serve to enhance Singapore’s justice system.
Parties in a Court Proceeding
District Judges preside over cases in the District Courts. They are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. In some cases, District Judges also preside over Magistrates' Courts cases.
In criminal cases, a District Judge can hear offences where the maximum imprisonment term does not exceed 10 years or are punishable with a fine only. A District Judge may pass any of the following sentences:
- Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years
- A fine not exceeding $30,000
- Up to 12 strokes of the cane
- Any lawful sentence combining any of the sentences which it is authorised by law to pass
The District Judge can also hear offences and impose sentences which exceed the above limits (in special cases permitted by the law).
Magistrates are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. Magistrates preside over Magistrates' Courts. Magistrates also deal with complaints of criminal offences by aggrieved persons made on oath. These are called Magistrates' Complaints.
In criminal cases, a Magistrate can hear offences where the maximum imprisonment term does not exceed 3 years or are punishable with a fine only. A Magistrate may pass any of the following sentences:
- Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
- Up to 6 strokes of the cane
- Any lawful sentence combining any of the sentences which it is authorised to pass by law
The Magistrates' Courts also have the jurisdiction to try offences and impose sentences which exceed the above limits (in special cases permitted by the law).
Prosecutors are public lawyers. They charge suspects with crimes and attempt to convict them in court on behalf of the State. Depending on the type of cases, a Deputy Public Prosecutor, Assistant Public Prosecutor, Police Prosecutor or a Departmental Prosecutor may be present in court. In certain minor cases, such as those dealt with by way of Magistrate's Complaint, he or she may be the Complainant him- or herself or his or her lawyer.
A witness is someone who verbally shares factual statements to a judge in open court or in a judge's hearing chambers. Witnesses must be sworn or affirmed before giving evidence. They must also be competent to give evidence and be of sound mind.
An accused is someone who is charged with an offence or a crime in a criminal court. The accused is brought forward at a Criminal Mentions Court when the prosecution is ready to formally file charges against him or her. This takes place no longer than 48 hours after the arrest and remand. If the accused is on police bail, he or she will be similarly asked to attend Court once the prosecution is ready to formally file charges.
2. Conduct a Criminal Case Without a Lawyer
An accused person in a criminal case can choose to be represented by a lawyer or to conduct the case themselves. Accused persons who cannot afford legal representation can contact the Law Society of Singapore to seek eligibility on the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme at 6532 3105 or 6534 1564.
Claiming Trial or Pleading Guilty
If you are charged in court for a criminal offence, you will first be brought before a Criminal Mentions Court. The charge will be officially read and explained to you. You will then be asked if you are claiming trial or pleading guilty to the charge. "Pleading guilty" means you admit you are guilty as charged. "Claiming trial" means you dispute the charge.
If you claim trial, the mentions court will fix the case for a Pre-Trial Conference. The purpose of this conference is to ascertain if the case is ready for trial. You have to attend it together with the prosecution (who will be represented either by a police prosecutor or a deputy public prosecutor). The judge will be informed of the nature of the evidence to be tendered by the prosecution and you. Witnesses will also be made known. Then, the judge will set a date for the trial.
You should address the following matters:
- Enquire if the prosecution intends to make use of any written statement given by you to the police; and if so, you may request for a copy of the statement
- Indicate to the court the number of witnesses that you wish to call at the trial
- If you or any of your witnesses cannot speak English, you should inform the Judge that you require an interpreter for the trial
Preparing For the Trial
Make sure that all your witnesses turn up for trial. If you are not sure if your witnesses will turn up, you should apply at the Crime Registry (State Courts, Level 1) for a "Summons to a Witness" to be issued against that witness. A fee of $20 is payable at the Crime Registry for every Summons issued. A court process server will deliver the document to the witnesses.
On trial day, you must ensure that you have brought the evidence that you need to court. If the evidence comprises documents, make sure you have at least four copies of each document: one (the original) for the Court, one for the prosecution, one for the witness and one for yourself.
Also, make sure that the author of the document is in Court. Otherwise, the document may not be admitted as trial evidence.
On the Day Of the Trial
Arrive early to find your way to the right court on time. Upon arrival, inform the Court Officer of your presence and confirm that your case is fixed in that Court. If you are late or absent, a "Warrant of Arrest" may be issued against you.
Dress appropriately in court. Avoid shabby or indecent attire. When the judge enters the courtroom, stand up and bow to show respect for the judge. Address the judge as "Your Honour", the prosecutor as "the learned prosecutor" and the witness by their surname, e.g. Mr Tan or Miss Kamala.
In a criminal trial, the prosecution will present their case first. This is done through calling their witnesses to give evidence. When the first witness is on the stand, the rest of the witnesses must remain outside the courtroom. You must ensure that your witnesses are outside the courtroom as well. When the prosecution's witness is on the stand, the prosecution will be given the first opportunity to ask the witness questions. This stage is known as the "examination-in-chief" of the witness. You should listen carefully to the questions and answers, and make notes for your own reference.
After the prosecutor is done with the questions, you will be allowed to ask the witness questions. This is known as the "cross-examination" of the witness. This is your opportunity to challenge the evidence given by the witness. You can do so by giving your version of the events, and asking the witness if he or she agrees with it. You may also rely on documentary evidence to contradict the evidence given by the witness.
You are not allowed to ask questions that are intended to insult or embarrass the witness. After your cross-examination, the prosecutor is allowed to ask further questions of the witness in order to clarify some of the answers given during cross-examination. This is known as the "re-examination" of the witness.
The Calling of the Defence
After the prosecution has called all their witnesses, the Court will decide if the prosecution’s case is strong enough for you to answer the charge. In such case, the Court will ask you to present your defence, and you will be given two options.
- Take the stand - The first is to give evidence from the witness stand on oath, and you will also be liable to answer questions from the prosecutor; or
- Remain silent - You can choose not to take the stand and remain silent. However, if you keep silent, the Court may draw all reasonable inferences, including those that may be against you.
You are entitled to call other witnesses in support of your defence, regardless of your chosen option.
Presenting the Defence Case
If you choose to give evidence, you will be the first person to go on the stand. After stating the oath, introduce your name and address followed by your current occupation. Thereafter, proceed to give your version of the events. The prosecutor will then cross-examine you. When you have finished giving your evidence, you may call your witnesses to the stand. As these are your witnesses, you will be given the first opportunity to ask them questions before the prosecutor cross-examines them.
You will be able to re-examine your witnesses after the cross-examination. When questioning your witness, it is important to note that you should ask open-ended questions, instead of stating your version of the events and asking if the witness agrees with it.
At the end of the trial, you will have the opportunity to make a closing submission. This is your chance to highlight the weaknesses of the prosecution’s evidence and give reasons why your evidence is more credible and should be accepted by the Court. The prosecutor will thereafter have a chance to reply to your submissons.
The verdict of whether you are guilty or not is decided by the Court. The Court may pronounce the verdict immediately after listening to submissions, or adjourn the case to take more time to consider its decision. If the verdict is that you are guilty, do not argue with the judge or protest in the courtroom as that may amount to contempt of court.
If you are dissatisfied with the result, you should instead file an appeal with the Crime Registry (State Courts, Level 1) within 14 calendar days from the pronouncement of the verdict. The appeal can be against the verdict or the sentence imposed or both.
If the verdict is that you are guilty, the prosecutor will inform the Court if you have any previous convictions. You will have the opportunity to confirm or dispute the information given by the prosecutor. Then, you will have the opportunity to inform the Court of reasons why a lenient sentence should be imposed on you. This is called "mitigation". The Court will pass the sentence after taking into consideration your mitigation.
3. Overview of Civil Justice Process
Civil Justice Model
The State Courts recognise that a seamless civil justice system is what makes an effective and efficient civil justice process. As such, our civil justice system is integrated with the operations of the:
- Civil Registry (where the citizens’ vital legal documents are stored e.g. birth certs, marriage certs, etc.); and
- Primary Dispute Resolution Centre (where Singaporeans can seek resolution without having to go through trial).
This integrated system allows us to manage civil cases better and speedier. It also ensures litigation cost savings and optimises the deployment of the State Courts resources.
Types of Services Provided
Civil Trial Courts
Civil Trial Courts are presided over by District Judges and Magistrates who hear the evidence in open court. After hearing the evidence and submissions presented by the parties or their lawyers, the District Judge or Magistrate will proceed to pronounce Judgment on the matter for the parties' compliance.
A District Judge is a judicial officer who presides in a District Court. He or she is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. For civil claims, a District Court has jurisdiction to hear and try an action for the recovery of a sum or sums not exceeding S$250,000. For specific details on the powers and jurisdiction of a District Court, please refer to the State Courts Act.
A District Judge will hear and try a civil action in open court, unless otherwise ordered. At the conclusion of the trial, the District Judge will pronounce judgment and such judgment shall (subject to appeal to the High Court) be final and conclusive between the parties. The District Judge is also concurrently appointed a Magistrate. When presiding in a Magistrate's Court, a District Judge has the powers and jurisdiction of only a Magistrate.
A Magistrate is a judicial officer who presides in a Magistrate's Court. He or she is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. For civil claims, a Magistrate's Court has jurisdiction to hear and try an action for the recovery of a sum or sums not exceeding S$60,000. For specific details regarding the powers and jurisdiction of a Magistrate's Court, please refer to the State Courts Act.
A Magistrate will hear and try a civil action in open court, unless otherwise ordered. At the conclusion of the trial, the Magistrate will pronounce judgment and such judgment shall (subject to appeal to the High Court) be final and conclusive between the parties.
The Civil Registry handles all administrative matters related to the operations of the Civil Justice Division.
All interlocutory applications (i.e. applications that are filed and heard before the trial) are heard by Deputy Registrars (who are Judicial Officers) at the Civil Registry. The Civil Registry is also tasked with the management of the caseload heard at the Civil Justice Division. The Civil Registry ensures the Civil Justice Division is run efficiently. It also oversees the history of the case or matter from the commencement of filing of the Writ of Summons or Originating Summons to the final resolution of the matter.
A Deputy Registrar is a judicial officer appointed by the Chief Justice. Deputy Registrars assist the Registrar in the smooth running of the Civil Registry in the State Courts. Besides administrative duties, Deputy Registrars also have judicial functions. Deputy Registrars hear all interlocutory matters (hearings before trial) in Chambers and have the same jurisdiction and powers conferred on a District Court and as authorised by the State Courts Act and the Rules of Court.
Primary Dispute Resolution Centre
The Primary Dispute Resolution Centre provides court-based alternative dispute resolution services. It serves as another avenue for parties to explore settlement options without having to incur time-based and financial burdens of trial. The PDRC also includes online mediation and virtual dispute resolution in its portfolio.
The Bailiffs Section is the bailiffs’ department. Bailiffs are enforcement officers empowered to handle enforcement proceedings according to judges’ orders (under Sections 15 & 16 of the State Courts Act (Chapter 321)).
Bailiffs may enter the home of the judgment debtor (a losing defendant who owes money to the winner of the lawsuit) or premises of a third party to carry into effect all Writs of Execution and Court Orders. The usual enforcement filed by parties include a Writ of Seizure and Sale.
Bailiffs can be identified by their State-issued vests and authority passes.
4. Conduct a Civil Trial Without a Lawyer
Generally, a litigant in a civil action in the District Court and Magistrate's Court can choose to be represented by a lawyer or to conduct their own case i.e. act in person. Refer to Order 1 Rule 9 of the Rules of Court for the detailed requirements and procedure for a company (and other specified entities) to seek the Courts' permission for an officer to act on behalf of the company.
Litigants in person are held to the same standard of preparation and conduct that lawyers must follow. This includes complying with all the relevant laws and procedures. The Court will not re-litigate a previously decided action. So, if you are not sure of your legal position, consider consulting a lawyer. If you do not know any lawyers, seek help from the Law Society of Singapore at:
Tel: 6538 2500
Fax: 6533 5700
You can also seek financial assistance from the Legal Aid Bureau at:
Tel: 1800 225 5529
Fax: 6325 1402
This guide is intended for individuals representing themselves. It sets out basic information and court procedures relating to the conduct of a civil trial in person. It does not contain legal advice. For the detailed legal framework, rules, regulations and powers of the Court in the civil litigation process, refer to the State Courts Act (Cap 321), the Rules of Court and the State Courts Practice Directions, which can be found on the website of the State Courts at www.statecourts.gov.sg and the relevant links therein.
Note: This guide is for general information only. It may not be cited as legal authority before the Court. If legal assistance is required, consult a lawyer.
Commencing a Civil Action
A civil action begins by means of a document known as an originating process. The most common example of an originating process is a Writ of Summons. This has to be filed in the District Court or Magistrate's Court by the party making a claim and delivered to the party against whom the claim is made.
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 or her 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.
Defending a Civil Action
A defendant who wishes to contest the plaintiff's claim must inform both the Court and the plaintiff of his or her intention to do so by entering an appearance. He or she must file a memorandum of appearance in Court within 8 days after he or she has been served with the Writ of Summons.
Following which, within 22 days from the date the defendant gets the Writ of Summons, he or she must file the defence in Court and deliver a copy of his or her defence to the plaintiff's address of service or the plaintiff's solicitors at their office address.
Failure to file the memorandum of appearance or to file and serve the defence may result in judgment being entered against the defendant.
The defendant may file the memorandum of appearance and defence at the service bureau, the address and operating hours of which can be found below:
1 Supreme Court Lane
Level 1, Supreme Court Building
133 New Bridge Road
#19-01/02, Chinatown Point
Operating hours for the electronic filing of court documents are:
Mondays to Fridays: 8.30am to 5.00pm
Saturdays: 8.30am to 12.30pm
Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.
Main Stages of a Civil Action Before Trial
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 applications to the court in order to further the preparation of his or her 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 – For parties who wish to make amends to documents (eg the statement of claim, defence, reply) related to the matter in dispute.
- Application for default judgment - Where a party applies for judgment or the dismissal of the claim without trial 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 or her 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.
Parties are encouraged to explore avenues other than the court's litigation process to settle their disputes amicably. In this way, parties can retain control over the outcome which is acceptable to them, rather than having the solution imposed on them in a binding judgment of the Court. The existing relationship between the parties can also be preserved. In addition, parties can also resolve their disputes speedily, leading to substantial savings in time and legal fees.
To facilitate the amicable resolution of civil disputes and hence enhance access to justice, the Primary Dispute Resolution Centre at the State Courts has in place a comprehensive Court Dispute Resolution (CDR) programme. CDR is generally consensual and the agreement of the parties to the dispute must ordinarily be obtained before CDR can take place. It is provided free of charge to parties. The aim of CDR is to enable parties, with the assistance of an experienced and impartial Settlement Judge at a settlement conference (who manages the discussions but leaves the decision-making to the parties themselves), to reach a peaceful settlement of the disputes. The sessions with the Settlement Judge are strictly confidential.
If the case cannot be settled amicably, it will be placed before another Judge for trial. Parties are strongly encouraged to resolve their disputes through CDR. They can request for CDR any time after the commencement of a civil action up to the point in time before trial. To make an appointment for CDR, parties or their lawyers need only to write in to the Group Manager, Primary Dispute Resolution Centre.
Court Dispute Resolution (CDR)
Parties involved in a civil suit may request for Court Dispute Resolution (CDR), which is an alternative process to going for a trial. This service is provided by the State Courts at the Primary Dispute Resolution Centre. It is a convenient, quick and cost-effective way for the parties to reach a mutual agreement. Click here to find out more about CDR.
Setting Down an Action for Trial
After the pleadings (e.g. the statement of claim, defence and reply) have been filed, 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, then 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.
By this time, each party must have submitted and exchanged their affidavits of evidence-in-chief and documentary evidence in support of his case. These should contain the facts and evidence which witnesses called by each party intend to cite as evidence.
Once a matter has been set down for trial, a pre-trial conference will be conducted to ascertain the status of the action and fix the date(s) of the trial. When attending the pre-trial conference, you should come prepared to take trial dates and to inform the Judge of the number of witnesses you would like to call and the estimated number of days the trial will take. In this regard, prior to the pre-trial conference, you should check with your witnesses on their availability to attend Court. This is to ensure that the witnesses whom you wish to call will be available on the date(s) fixed for trial. Generally, the trial will be fixed within 28 days from the date of the pre-trial conference. If you or any of your witnesses cannot speak English, this should be made known to the Judge hearing the pre-trial conference.
Preparing for Trial
Make sure that all your witnesses turn up for trial. If you are not sure if your witnesses will turn up, you should apply for a subpoena to be issued against that witness to compel his or her attendance.
Documents to be Submitted Prior to Trial
- Affidavits of Evidence-In-Chief and Bundle of Documents
Not less than five days before the start of the trial of an action, each party must file the originals of the affidavit of evidence-in-chief of the witnesses and a bundle of all documents that will be relied on or referred to at the trial by any party. As far as possible, the contents of the documents should be agreed on between the parties and filed by the plaintiff.
- Bundle of Authorities
To improve the conduct of civil proceedings and reduce the time taken in the presentation of cases in Court, parties are also required to prepare a bundle of legal authorities and an opening statement. Legal authorities include cases, statutes, subsidiary legislation and any other materials that a party seeks to rely upon. The bundle of authorities should be filed and served at least three days before the start of the trial.
- Opening Statements
Opening statements are required in all cases except where the trial Judge has dispensed with the requirement and in motor vehicle running down actions. The opening statement should set out the party's case in a nutshell, both as to facts and law. This will help to clarify issues between parties so that unnecessary time is not spent on trying to prove what is not disputed or irrelevant. The plaintiff's opening statement must be filed and served on all parties not less than three days before the start of the trial. The opening statements for the other parties should similarly be filed and served not later than two days before the start of the trial.
The detailed contents and format for the submission of the above documents can be found in paragraph 50 of the State Courts Practice Directions.
With the introduction of the Electronic Filing System in 2000, court documents are now filed by lawyers electronically from their offices. Litigants in person may file their documents manually at the service bureau, upon the payment of an administrative fee. The procedure for filing documents via the service bureau is set out in paragraph 75 of the State Courts Practice Directions.
Documents to Bring on the Day of the Trial
On the day of the trial, you must ensure that you have brought two sets of all the documents submitted above to Court: one for the witness and one for yourself.
On the Day of the Trial
You should arrive early to find your way to the right Court on time. Upon arrival, you should inform the Court Officer of your presence and confirm that your case is fixed in that particular Court.
If you are late or absent, the case may proceed in your absence. In the circumstances, your action may either be dismissed or judgment may be entered against you, as the case may be.
You should be dressed appropriately in court. Avoid shabby or scanty dressing.
When the Judge enters and leaves the courtroom, stand up and bow as a show of respect for the Judiciary.
You should remain standing whenever you address the Court. Address the Judge as "Your Honour", the lawyer for the other side as "Learned Counsel" and the witnesses by their surname, for example, Mr Tan or Miss Kamala.
Do not interrupt the Judge or the lawyer for the other side when they are speaking. If you wish to raise a point when it is not your turn to speak, always wait for the Judge or lawyer for the other side to finish speaking first before you seek the permission of the Court to raise any further points that you wish to state.
Order of proceedings during the trial
- Opening statements
As the parties' opening statements would have been submitted to the Court prior to the trial, the Court would usually order that the opening statements be deemed seen and read. In such circumstances, parties need not make oral opening submissions, but will go straight into the oral examination of witnesses in court.
- Examination of witnesses
In a civil trial, the plaintiff will present his evidence first. This is done by calling his witnesses to give evidence. When the first witness is on the stand, the rest of the witnesses must wait outside the courtroom. The defendant's witnesses must similarly remain outside the court room.
When the plaintiff's witness is on the stand, the plaintiff will be given the first opportunity to ask the witness questions. This is known as the "examination-in-chief" of the witness. As the evidence sought to be adduced by each witness would already be contained in the affidavit of evidence-in-chief, the examination-in-chief of each witness is generally short. After taking the oath, the witness will first be asked about his name, identity card number, occupation and residential address to establish his identity. Thereafter, he will be asked to confirm the truth of the contents of the affidavit of evidence-in-chief.
After the examination-in-chief is complete, the defendant will be entitled to ask the witness questions. This is known as cross-examination of the witness. This is the opportunity to challenge the evidence given by the plaintiff's witness. This can be done by giving the defendant's version of events to the witness and asking if the witness agrees with it. The defendant can also rely on documentary evidence to contradict the evidence given by the witness. Questions intended to insult or embarrass the witness are not allowed. Questions which are not relevant to the issue at hand can also be objected to.
After the cross-examination, the plaintiff is allowed to ask further questions of the witness to clarify the answers given by the witness during cross examination. This is known as the re-examination of the witness.
After all the plaintiff's witnesses have given evidence, the defendant's witnesses will then give evidence before the Court. The procedure for the examination of the defendant's witnesses is the same as that for the plaintiff's witnesses.
- Closing submissions
At the conclusion of the examination of all the witnesses of both the plaintiff and the defendant, oral closing submissions by each party will be made. Closing submissions refer to the final arguments which a party makes regarding his case. Usually, a party's closing submissions will summarise the evidence heard during the trial and will set out the reasons why the Court should rule in favour of that party: for example, why the Court should not accept the evidence of certain witnesses. Closing submissions will also usually set out the legal authorities supporting the party's arguments, for example, legislation or previously decided cases. The Court may decide that parties do not need to make their closing submissions orally. Instead the Court may give the parties a deadline by which to file their closing submissions in writing. In the usual case, the defendant will make his closing submissions first, followed by the plaintiff.
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, it 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.
If a judgment is given against any party, do not argue with the Judge or protest in the Court as this may amount to contempt of Court.
If a party is not satisfied with the judgment, he or she should file an appeal within 14 days from the pronouncement of the judgment. Before filing an appeal, the party should first ascertain if leave (permission) to appeal is required and obtain leave of the Court to appeal if it is. Leave of the Court is required if the amount in dispute or the value of the subject-matter does not exceed $ 50,000.