Asia Law Academy Masterclass Home Edition: Civil Practice by SM Shanmugam

The Asia Law Academy (ALA) hosted another successful MasterClass on Civil Practice conducted by Mr. SM Shanmugam, a notable civil litigator and partner at Messrs. Lee Hishamuddin Allen & Gledhill (LHAG). The session held on Thursday, 28th May 2020 covered some of the main topics in civil practice i.e. Pleadings and Summary Judgment.

Mr Shanmugam encouraged students to grasp key concepts involved in civil procedure i.e. mode of beginning civil proceedings (under Order 5 of the Rules of Court 2012), the different types of pleadings and governing provisions under Order 18, and the application for summary judgment under Order 14.

“In most cases, a civil dispute involves 2 parties – the Plaintiff and the Defendant. If you are acting for the Plaintiff, you will send a Letter of Demand to the opposite party setting out the brief facts of the claim and demand payment within a stipulated time.”

“This letter is important as in some cases, the opposite party may choose to fulfill their obligation, for example, make payment or part-payment” he added.

In the event, the defendant fails to respond within the stipulated timeframe (maybe 10 or 14 days), the Plaintiff’s lawyer then prepares the Writ and Statement of Claim (pleadings). Basically, the Statement of Claim sets out the summary of important facts of the case.

At the outset, matters of jurisdiction i.e. which court and where the matter is to be commenced has to be determined in accordance with the Courts of Judicature Act 1964.

As to the mode of commencement in a civil suit, reference must be made to Order 5. Mr. Shanmugam noted that in a majority of cases, the matter begins by way of writ and in cases where there is unlikely to be a material dispute of facts, the matter proceeds by way of an originating summons (OS). The Defendant then proceeds to file the Statement of Defence within the stipulated timeframe and the Plaintiff in return may choose to file a Reply.

“If a matter was started by way of OS which is supported by an affidavit, the Defendant in his or her affidavit-in-reply, may apply to convert the proceedings from an OS to a Writ, and in turn the Plaintiff will respond with an affidavit-in-reply to the Defendant’s claim”.

“Otherwise, if the case proceeds by way of Writ, then the defendant in his or her Statement of Defence will raise defences such as res judicata, estoppel, etc. to which the Plaintiff will have the opportunity to file a Reply.”, said Mr. Shanmugam.

“The purpose of pleadings is to provide notice to both parties and not to take the other party by surprise during the trial stage”, he stressed.

Once the pleadings are closed, the Plaintiff may apply for summary judgment by showing that there are no triable issues which merit a full trial for determination.

During the Q&A session, Mr Shanmugam answered a few questions from students on filing of an affidavit in support (in cases where a notice of application is filed, the only exception being O. 18 r. 19(1)(a)) and the relevant process to be followed for an application to amend the statement of claim (O.20) when new issues arise.