How do you conduct a Civil trial on your own without a lawyer?

by | Feb 20, 2019 | Blog

Documents: you must bring 2 sets of all the documents submitted above to Court. 1 set is for the witness to refer to and 1 set is for yourself to refer to. You must also come prepared to take your own notes during the trial and you may need to have your own writing material and stationery for this.

Start time: you must arrive early in the State Court or High Court (depending on where your trial is being held) to give yourself enough time to find your way to the right Court. When you arrive at the trial Court, inform the Court officer that you have arrived.

If you are late or absent for the trial, the case may continue in your absence and your case may be dismissed or judgment entered against you.

Dressing and attire: you must be appropriately – business and work attire for men and women is recommended. Whenever the Judge enters or leaves the courtroom, you must stand up and bow to show your respect. Here are some other things to remember about how to behave in Court:

  • Remain standing when you speak to the Judge.
  • Refer to the Judge as “Your Honour”
  • Refer to the opposing party’s lawyer as other side as “Learned Counsel”
  • Refer to the witness by his surname e.g. Mr Tan
  • Do not interrupt the Judge or the opposing party’s lawyer when they are speaking.
  • If you want to say something when it is not your turn to speak, you must wait for the Judge or opposing party’s lawyer to finish speaking before you stand up to ask for permission to speak to the Judge.

Questioning the witness: the Plaintiff will present his evidence first by calling his witnesses and each witness takes his turn to answer questions from the witness stand. When the Plaintiff’s witness is on the witness stand, the Plaintiff will be first to ask the witness questions – this is known as the Examination-In-Chief (EIC). The evidence intended to be given by each witness should already be contained in the Affidavit of Evidence-In-Chief (AEIC), so the EIC is usually short.

At the start of giving evidence, the witness will confirm his name, identification number, occupation and residential address to verify his identity. He will then confirm the truth of the contents of his AEIC.

After the EIC is complete, the Defendant will be next to ask the witness questions to challenge his evidence – this is known as the Cross-Examination of the witness. You can sometimes do this by asking if the witness agrees to the Defendant’s version of facts, or you can use documents and other materials to show that witness is lying or not giving accurate or truthful evidence in Court because the documents and materials give a different version of facts compared to his.

You are not allowed to ask questions that are intended to insult or embarrass the witness are not allowed.

If a question is not relevant to the issue being considered at the trial, the opposing party can object to the question being asked and answered.

After the Cross-Examination is done, the Plaintiff can ask the witness some questions to clarify the answers given by the witness during cross examination – this is known as Re-Examination.

After all the Plaintiff’s witnesses have completed their turns to give evidence, the Defendant’s witnesses will then take their then give evidence to the Court following the same procedure involving Examination-In-Chief, Cross-Examination and Re-Examination.

Summarising your case after the trial: After all witnesses have given evidence, you will need to summarise their evidence and present your final arguments by referring to the evidence presented at the trial – this is known as making Closing Submissions. You must give the reasons why the Court should accept your witnesses’ evidence and their version of facts and reject the opposing party’s witnesses’ evidence and their version of facts. Closing submissions can refer to legal cases and authorities (e.g. previously decided cases) which support your arguments.

Sometimes, the Court may ask the parties to submit their closing submissions and arguments in a written document. 

Decision and judgment: after reviewing all the evidence presented at the trial and considering the arguments presented by the parties in their closing submissions, the Court will make a decision on the case either on the last day of the trial or on a separate day to be scheduled.

Even if you disagree with the judgment and decision when it is given by the Court, you must not argue or disrespect the Court because this may be regarded as acting in contempt of Court and you can be penalised for this.

Appealing the Court’s decision and judgment: if you disagree with and are not satisfied with the Court’s judgment, you must file a Notice of Appeal within 14 days from the date that the judgment is given. Sometimes, permission is needed to file the Notice of Appeal.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.