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At your civil trial

Note

This page describes the trial process for civil cases begun by a Writ of Summons (Writ) and heard in the Magistrate’s Court (non-injury motor accident action and any action for personal injuries), the District Court or the General Division of the High Court.

Refer to Going to court (simplified civil process) instead if either of the following applies to your case:

  • Civil cases begun by a Writ and heard in the Magistrate's Court (except non-injury motor accident action and any action for personal injuries).
  • Civil cases begun by a Writ and heard in the District Court where all parties consent to the application of the simplified civil process.

During the trial, parties will be given time and opportunity to present their respective sides of the case. The judge may ask questions to clarify or get additional facts. This is done so that the judge has all the relevant information needed to decide on the outcome of the case.

You are expected to observe court etiquette at each stage of the court proceedings. You should:

  • Stand up and bow to show respect when the judge enters the courtroom.
  • Wait patiently for your turn to speak.
  • Always stand when you are speaking to the court.
  • Speak into the microphones provided so that your statements can be recorded clearly.
  • Avoid interrupting the judge or the lawyer for the other party when they are speaking.
    • If you wish to raise a point when it is not your turn to speak, you should wait for the judge or lawyer for the other party to finish speaking first before you seek permission to raise any further points that you wish to state.
  • Address the judge as "Your Honour", the opposing lawyer as "the learned counsel" and the witness by their surname, for example, Mr Tan or Miss Kamala.
  • Ask the judge for a short recess if you need to excuse yourself urgently.

Order of proceedings

Both parties will take turns to present their case to the judge in the stages as follows:

As each party would have submitted their written opening statements to the court prior to the trial, it is up to the judge to decide whether they need to be heard.

If the judge orders that the opening statements be deemed seen and read, parties will not need to make oral opening statements and will go straight into the oral examination of witnesses in court instead.

If the parties are required to make oral opening statements, the party who made the claim (the plaintiff) will make their opening statements first, followed by the defendant.

What to expect:

  • The judge will mark and formally admit the bundles the plaintiff had submitted by naming them with letters and numbers.
    • For example, the judge may say "plaintiff's Bundle of Affidavits marked PA pages 1 to 100".
  • The judge may also identify witnesses in the same way, such as PW1 for the plaintiff's witness and DW1 for the defendant's witness.
  • The plaintiff will call their witnesses to the witness stand to give evidence in court (also known as the examination-in-chief).
    • As the Affidavits of Evidence-in-chief (AEIC) for all witnesses would generally have been exchanged before the trial, the examination-in-chief is usually a very short process unless permission is sought from and granted by the judge to allow for further examination in chief.
  • The defendant will then have the opportunity to question the plaintiff’s witnesses (also known as the cross-examination).
  • The plaintiff is entitled to re-examine their witnesses after the cross-examination.
  • The plaintiff’s case is closed once all the plaintiff’s witnesses have completed giving evidence.
Note

There are strict legal rules that regulate what questions may be asked of witnesses. It is not uncommon for the lawyers representing either party to object to questions asked in breach of these rules.

In such circumstances, the judge will make a decision on the objection which has been raised and may issue directions (as required) to move the trial forward.

What to expect:

  • The judge will mark and formally admit the bundles the defendant had submitted by naming them with letters and numbers.
    • For example, the judge may say "defendant's bundle of affidavits marked DA pages 1 to 100".
  • The defendant will call their witnesses to the witness stand to give evidence in court (examination-in-chief).
    • As the Affidavits of Evidence-in-chief (AEIC) for all witnesses would generally have been exchanged before the trial, the examination-in-chief is usually a very short process unless permission is sought from and granted by the judge to allow for further examination in chief.
  • The plaintiff will then have the opportunity to question the defendant’s witnesses (the cross-examination).
  • The defendant is entitled to re-examine their witnesses after the cross-examination.
  • The defendant’s case is closed once all the defendant’s witnesses have completed giving evidence.
Note

There are strict legal rules that regulate what questions may be asked of witnesses. It is not uncommon for the lawyers representing either party to object to questions asked in breach of these rules.

In such circumstances, the judge will make a decision on the objection which has been raised and may issue directions (as required) to move the trial forward.

After all the plaintiff's and defendant's witnesses have given evidence, the court may direct parties to give their closing submissions orally or by way of written submissions.

Closing submissions refer to the final arguments which a party makes regarding his case. Usually, a party's closing submissions may:

  • Summarise the evidence heard during the trial.
  • Set out the reasons why the court should rule in their favour.
    • For example, it may contain reasons why the court should not accept the evidence of certain witnesses.
  • Set out the legal authorities supporting the party's arguments.
    • For example, it may contain the relevant legislation or judgment from previously decided cases.

A judgment is the decision of the court at the end of a civil trial.

Depending on the case, the judge may:

  • Pronounce judgment immediately after listening to the closing submissions.
  • Adjourn the case to consider the evidence and arguments from both parties.
    • The court will inform the parties to attend court at a later date for the delivery of judgment.
  • Give an order or judgment in favour of one party for the amount of money (also known as the quantum of damages) to be awarded to the winning party to be adjourned to an assessment of damages hearing at a later date.
    • This occurs in certain cases (such as personal injury claims) where a judge may pronounce judgment on the issue of liability only and not the precise amount of damages to be paid.

After judgment is given

If a party is unsatisfied with a judgment given by a judge or magistrate, they may file an appeal or leave (permission) to appeal (if necessary).

Refer to the following to find out more, depending on where your case is heard:

If a party is unsatisfied with a judgment given by a registrar, they may file an appeal.

Refer to the following to find out more, depending on where your case is heard:

Once all proceedings to the case including appeals against orders made pre-trial (interlocutory orders) have concluded, the court may award costs to the parties.

Alternatively, the court may order that costs be taxed. This means that costs are awarded to a party but the amount of the costs is not fixed and is to be determined at a taxation hearing at a later date.

Need help?

The information here is for general guidance as the courts do not provide legal advice. If you need further help, you may want to get independent legal advice.

Find out more

Resources

Refer to:
Legislation associated with this topic include:
Refer to:

Go to Step-by-step guide

Step-by-step guide

2021/07/23

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