Civil Litigation, International Arbitration, Legal Update:

Paradigm shift in dispute resolution rules

April 14, 2020

In May 2016, the Ministry of Law announced the establishment of the Civil Justice Review Committee (“CJRC”) which was tasked to propose reforms to the Singapore civil justice system.

Although the Committee remarked in its report that the current system worked well for a majority of users and stakeholders, the Committee’s proposed amendments were substantial. At its core, the proposals seek to establish a judge-led dispute resolution system.

The focus of this article is on the effects of the changes on rules in relation to (i) the Production of Documents and (ii) the introduction of the Case Conference mechanism to all claims.

The proposed amendments reveal a paradigm shift in the principles underpinning the rules on the production of documents; a claimant is now to sue and proceed on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defendant’s. As a result, the rules on general discovery are now being replaced with rules requiring parties to exchange all documents which they will be relying on within 14 days after the date of the Case Conference.

This means that a party is now only legally obligated to disclose documents, which he will rely on and he does not have to disclose all relevant documents (as was the case with general discovery). Although, the new rules also do provide for the registrar/judge to implement a broader scope of discovery, it appears that this will likely be the exception rather than the norm.

The proposed rules also introduce a Case Conference mechanism, which undoubtedly is an expansion of the Case Management Conference (“CMCs”) in Magistrate’s Courts suits. What is perhaps the most significant inclusion in the Case Conference mechanism is a general requirement for parties to file and serve their list of witnesses and the Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief (“AEIC”) of all or some witnesses after the close of pleadings and before the exchange of any documents.

The combined effect of the new proposed rules on the production of documents as well as the requirement to file and exchange AEICs after the close of pleadings is likely to result in a front-loading of costs resulting from an increase in work required in reviewing all documents prior to the commencement of the action and requiring the quick preparation of AEICs soon after pleadings have closed. No announcement has yet been made as to when the proposed rules will come into force.

This article was recently published in Asia Legal Business. Click here

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