In a Nutshell: the 5 Main Stages of Litigation Explained

Featured image

The entire litigation process may sound very complicated. But it is essentially made up of 5 main stages. Here are the 5 stages in a nutshell.

1. Commencement and Pleadings

Proceedings are commenced most often by the service on the Defendant of a document called the Writ of Summons. Sometimes, where there are minimal factual issues and/or the matter consists mainly of legal issues only, proceedings may be commenced by the service of a document called an Originating Summons. These documents are called the Originating Processes.

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. A Defence is filed in response to the Statement of Claim. Sometimes, the Defendant may also add a Counterclaim to the Defence. In response to the Defence, the Plaintiff may file a Reply. If there is a Counterclaim, the Plaintiff may also file a Defence to the Counterclaim, in the same document as his Reply. Collectively, these documents are called the Pleadings – because the parties are making the crux of their respective pleas to the Judge through these documents.

If necessary and relevant, parties may ask for further and better particulars (“F&BPs”) of the pleadings, if there are insufficient or unclear facts being pleaded in the documents stated above. Once filed and served, the F&BPs form part of the Pleadings.

2. Discovery

The next stage of litigation is discovery. Parties are required to voluntarily disclose and produce copies of all relevant documents, both in support of and even those contradicting their own case, to the other party. Where a party does not provide a complete list of all relevant documents, the other party may apply to Court for specific discovery of such incomplete or missing documents.

This stage is potentially time-consuming and extremely tedious especially for certain civil matters involving voluminous documentation, e.g. construction law matters. However, technology is currently being used or developed to streamline this process.

3. Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief

The main body of the parties’ evidence is to be reduced into written form, in a document called the Affidavit of Evidence-in-Chief (“AEIC”). Every relevant and material fact / evidence and document in support of the claim or to refute the Defence should be contained in the AEIC, for each and every one of the witnesses. This process involves spending a lot of time with the lawyers to ensure that everything that is said and exhibited in the AEIC(s) are accurate and complete.

4. Trial

Parties attend an open Court hearing presided over by the Judge. At trial, parties are cross-examined, chiefly by way of leading questions (where the answer is often found within the question itself), by the opponent’s lawyer on the contents of their AEICs. This is a process designed to extract admissions or to gather concessions, in a bid to illicit the truth

After cross-examination is over, the parties may be re-examined by their own lawyer to limit any damage done during cross-examination, or to clarify certain answers given during cross-examination. As a general rule, no leading questions may be asked during re-examination.

After trial, parties make their final submissions, either in writing or orally, or a combination of both. The Judge deliberates before making his decision, and may sometimes release written grounds of decision. The decision is extracted into a Judgment to be enforced.

5. Enforcement

Here is where you put bite to your bark. A Judgment may be enforced in one or more of the following ways: bankruptcy, winding-up, writ of seizure and sale against movable and immovable property, writ of possession, writ of delivery, writ of distress, committal, garnishee, appointing a receiver, examination of judgment debtor, etc. Which method is used depends on the nature of the Judgment, and the available assets of the debtor.


There you have it. The litigation process in a nutshell, where there are essentially 5 nuts.

The usual disclaimer: All opinions expressed on are entirely my own. Importantly, my opinions do not constitute legal advice and you should definitely formally engage a lawyer to confirm, vary or refute my views.

To Sue or Not to Sue: Demystifying Litigation in Singapore @ © Dominic Chan, a Singapore litigation lawyer. All rights reserved.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. chuajingyi says:

    Reblogged this on Food for the soul and commented:
    This is possibly one of the most comprehensive and straightforward summaries of the plain vanilla litigation. Thank you 🙂

    1. Dominic Chan says:

      Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s