What if I Cannot Find the Party I Want to Sue?
In general, you will need to know the location of the party you are suing to start a lawsuit against that party. This article explains how you can find the party to be sued, and your options if you are unable to do so.
Why Do You Need to Know the Location of the Party to be Sued?
To start a lawsuit in Singapore, the originating process (i.e. the court document used to start the lawsuit) must generally be served personally on the party you are suing. This ensures that the lawsuit is brought to the party’s attention.
Personal service is effected by leaving a physical copy of the originating process with the party being sued.
If the party is a body corporate (e.g. a company), personal service is effected by:
- Leaving the originating process at its registered office (if any);
- Sending the originating process by registered post to its registered office (if any); or
- Personal service of the originating process on the chairman, secretary, treasurer or other similar officers of the body corporate.
How Can I Find the Party to Effect Personal Service?
If you do not already know the location of the party to be sued, you can try obtaining the residential address, workplace address and/or registered office address of the party (whichever is relevant) by performing searches with the:
- Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS);
- Housing and Development Board (HDB);
- Singapore Land Authority (SLA); and/or
- Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).
What If I Still Cannot Find the Party?
If you have made at least 2 reasonable attempts at personal service but have still been unsuccessful at locating the party to be sued, you can consider applying to the court for substituted service of the originating process.
Substituted service does not require a physical act of delivery. Rather, it involves taking certain steps ordered by the court to bring the originating process to the attention of the other party to be sued.
When will the court allow substituted service?
The court may allow substituted service if it finds that personal service is for any reason “impracticable”. Generally, you would need to show the court that:
- Your proposed mode of substituted service will probably be effective in bringing the originating process to the attention of the party to be sued; and
- You have made 2 reasonable but unsuccessful attempts at personal service on the party before filing the application for substituted service.
What are the modes of substituted service available?
The court may order one or more of the modes of substituted service below:
- Posting on the party’s front door: Posting a copy of the originating process on the front door of the last-known address of the party to be sued.
- Registered post: Sending a copy of the originating process to the last-known address of the party to be sued using Advice of Receipt registered post.
- Electronic means: Sending a copy of the originating process to the party through “electronic means”. Electronic means of service which have been accepted by the Singapore Courts include email, Skype, Facebook, internet message boards, WhatsApp and other smartphone messaging platforms. You will need to show the court that the account to which the originating process will be sent belongs to the party to be sued and is currently active.
- Advertisement: Placing an advertisement in a daily newspaper circulating in Singapore in a language the party to be sued can understand. Service by advertisement should be considered only as a last resort.
In cases where you are unable to locate the party and/or do not know the party’s address, applying to the court for substituted service of the originating process by electronic means or advertisement may be your best option.
What If the Party to be Sued is Currently Overseas?
If the party to be sued is currently overseas, the options available to you will depend on whether the party is:
- Based overseas; or
- Based in Singapore but is temporarily overseas.
Party to be sued is based overseas
If the party to be sued is based overseas (for example, you are suing a foreigner), you will first need to apply to the Singapore Courts for permission to serve the originating process on the party out of jurisdiction. This is unless the service is allowed under a contract between the parties. In such a case, the court’s permission is not needed.
The Singapore Courts will permit service of the originating process out of jurisdiction if it can be shown that the court has the jurisdiction or is the appropriate court to hear the lawsuit. In your application, you must also state in which country or place is the party likely to be found, and whether the validity of the originating process needs to be extended.
If the Singapore Courts grant permission for you to serve the originating process out of jurisdiction, service has to be effected in accordance with the law of the foreign country in which the party to be sued is located. Further, reasonable steps should be taken to serve the originating process within 28 days after the issue of the originating process. If the court is satisfied that you’ve not taken such reasonable steps and you attend the first case conference without serving the originating process, the court may dismiss the suit.
If you are unable to locate the party in the foreign country to effect personal service, you can apply to the Singapore Courts for substituted service out of jurisdiction on the party.
For example, the Singapore Courts have permitted substituted service of an originating process on a man based in Australia using Skype, Facebook and internet messaging boards, after multiple attempts at personal service at the man’s address in Australia failed.
The same requirements and modes for substituted service described above apply. However, the method(s) of substituted service adopted must not go against the law of the foreign country in which service is to take place.
If the Singapore Courts grant permission for a substituted service for you to serve the originating process out of jurisdiction, service has to be effected within 14 days after the court order.
Party to be sued is based in Singapore but is temporarily overseas
If the party is based in Singapore but is overseas at the time the originating process is issued, and you are unable to locate that party, the Singapore Courts may permit substituted service of the originating process on the party within Singapore.
The same requirements and modes of substituted service described above will apply. You also will not have to apply to serve the originating process out of jurisdiction.
For example, the Singapore Courts have permitted substituted service of an originating process within Singapore on a merchant who had left Singapore and was travelling through various countries for business. Because the merchant kept regular contact with his family at his Singapore address, the court allowed the originating process to be posted on the front door of that Singapore address.
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