Wasting the Court’s Time and Resources: Legal Consequences
When it comes to a court case, it is understandable that you want it to be resolved as soon as possible, and with the best possible outcome in your favour. However, if your lawyer files applications that are frivolous or unnecessary that do not support or advance your case, these actions may be regarded as wasting the court’s time and resources. This could lead to undesirable consequences not just for your lawyer, but for you as the client as well.
This article will cover:
What Does It Mean to Waste the Court’s Time and Resources?
The following are some examples of situations that could be regarded as wasting the court’s time and/or resources:
1. Including unnecessary documents
If the legal matter requires a hearing before a judge, all the documents that will be used in court must be filed in advance of the hearing. These include supporting documents for the case and the authorities (i.e. cases, statutes, etc.) that will be relied on.
However, including more documents than required may backfire. Only those that are relevant to the case or necessary for the trial should be included in the bundle of documents. Otherwise, the court would have to spend extra time and resources reviewing them, only to find that the documents are not helpful to the case at hand.
2. Submitting a poorly drafted opening statement
Before a civil trial, an opening statement has to be filed. An opening statement summarises the case and is intended to identify the issues that are, and are not, in dispute. It allows the judge to appreciate what the case is about and what they should look out for when reading and listening to the arguments presented by both sides. Hence, a lawyer should take care to ensure that the opening statement is concise.
A poorly drafted opening statement may contain too many long and elaborate arguments, or be missing certain key components (e.g. legal and/or factual issues not highlighted). This may hinder the progress of the trial.
3. Acting improperly, unreasonably or negligently
In general, a lawyer may have wasted the court’s time and resources by acting improperly, unreasonably or negligently. The table below outlines how the courts have defined “improper”, “unreasonable” and “negligent” conduct.
|Improper||Includes any significant breach of a substantial duty imposed by a code of professional conduct that lawyers need to abide by.|
|Unreasonable||Describes conduct that is designed to harass or frustrate the other party rather than to resolve the case, or cannot be justified.|
|Negligent||Refers to the failure to act with the competence reasonably expected of a lawyer.|
The three terms are not mutually exclusive – conduct that is unreasonable may also be improper, and conduct that is negligent may also be deemed to be unreasonable.
A lawyer may be regarded as having wasted the court’s time and resources by acting improperly, unreasonably, or negligently where:
- The lawyer submits poorly considered applications even though the lawyer should have known better and advised their client against such a course of action e.g. suggesting that the judge had been biased, despite having no reasonable basis for such an allegation, or proceeding with a frivolous application.
- The lawyer fails to act on his client’s instructions to provide documents sought by the opposing party despite there being a court order, causing extensive delays.
Case study: Bringing an appeal when the matter had already been settled between the parties to the case
In the case of Tan Ng Kuang Nicky v Metax Eco Solutions Pte Ltd, the liquidators of Sembawang Engineers and Constructors (SEC) had to decide whether to proceed with the lawsuit that SEC had commenced against Metax Eco Solutions (MES) prior to SEC’s liquidation. The High Court had previously ruled that if SEC lost the case then MES’ entire costs, including those incurred before SEC became insolvent, would have to be paid first.
The liquidators then appealed against the High Court’s decision, while concurrently negotiating a settlement with MES. However, even after MES agreed to a settlement the liquidators, acting through their lawyers, chose to proceed with their appeal.
The Court of Appeal held that there was no need for the appeal to have proceeded since the parties had already reached a settlement. In other words, the outcome of the appeal would not have affected either party. The appeal was therefore regarded as a waste of the court’s time and resources.
Why is It Important Not to Waste the Court’s Time and Resources?
The Singapore courts handle hundreds of thousands of cases annually. By spending time on frivolous matters or unmeritorious cases, the court will be less able to deal with more complex, pressing matters. It is therefore important not to waste the court’s time and resources.
Who has the Duty to Not Waste the Court’s Time and Resources?
Every lawyer has a duty to the court. Part of this duty requires a lawyer to conduct cases in a manner that maintains fairness, integrity and efficiency, and complies with all the applicable laws and practice directions. This also includes a responsibility not to waste the court’s time and resources, and impede the efficiency of the judicial process.
As a client, you should not instruct your lawyer to make unnecessary applications just to advance your interests. This may potentially subject your lawyer to sanctions, and additional costs can still be made against you.
If you choose to represent yourself as a litigant-in-person, the same principles (e.g. presenting your case to the court clearly without irrelevant facts) that apply to a lawyer would apply to you as well, so you should be mindful not to waste the court’s time and resources.
What are the Consequences of Wasting the Court’s Time and Resources?
The court may make a special order for costs against the party who has wasted the court’s time and resources. This means that they would have to compensate for the costs that have been incurred unnecessarily. The lawyer may also be personally liable for costs if they have acted unreasonably, improperly or negligently.
If the claims are baseless or frivolous applications are made, the court may also dismiss the case and/or applications.
Case study 1: Filing applications with no admissible supporting evidence
In a 2010 case, a Malaysian drug trafficker was given the mandatory death penalty. His appeals against his conviction and sentence were dismissed in 2011. Just days before he was scheduled to be hanged in 2021, his lawyer filed an application seeking a judicial review of the impending execution.
An additional application was also filed, seeking a stay of execution for the accused to be assessed by a panel of psychiatrists. His lawyer argued that the death sentence should not be carried out as the accused had a mental disability. However, the Court of Appeal dismissed the applications and held that this argument was baseless and there were no grounds on which it could succeed.
The Court of Appeal also highlighted that there was no admissible evidence to prove that the accused’s mental condition had deteriorated. The proceedings were deemed an abuse of process that was intended to delay his execution. The two lawyers who acted for the accused were ordered to pay costs to the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Case study 2: Filing applications that were improper and delayed the court’s proceedings
In a recent case, the Court of Appeal ordered a Singapore lawyer and a Malaysian non-profit organisation to pay costs after their unsuccessful attempts to challenge the death sentences of two drug traffickers. These challenges had been filed in the days before the offenders were scheduled to be executed.
The parties had argued that it was unconstitutional to carry out a death sentence on the offenders, who were allegedly suffering from a significant mental disorder. However, the High Court had previously found that neither of the offenders were suffering from such a disorder.
The Court of Appeal dismissed these applications as no new evidence was produced regarding the offenders’ mental state. There was therefore no basis to review their sentences. The judges also found that the Singapore lawyer had acted improperly in filing the applications when there was no new evidence to justify them. He was reminded of his duty as a lawyer to assess whether there was any proper case that could be put forward to the court, rather than just acting on the basis of his clients’ instructions.
What Can I Do If I Feel That My Lawyer has Provided Me With Inadequate Professional Services?
If you feel that your lawyer has provided inadequate professional service, you can lodge a complaint with the Law Society of Singapore.
The Law Society of Singapore regulates the conduct of lawyers in Singapore and acts on complaints filed by members of the public against lawyers. An overview of the process for filing a complaint with The Law Society of Singapore can be found here.
After investigating your complaint, the Law Society’s Council may order a penalty to be imposed on the lawyer in the case of inadequate professional service provided.
The court’s time and resources are precious and must be used wisely. You should also ensure that your lawyer is able to assess your case and guide you in making an informed decision as to whether you should take your case to court, seek a settlement, or consider alternative means of resolving your dispute.
A lawyer would be able to advise you on the merits of your case and whether you have a strong claim. On your part, you should not ask your lawyer to do more than is necessary in an attempt to achieve a better outcome.
You should look for an experienced lawyer who is able to help you get the best possible outcome for your case in an efficient manner, so as not to waste the court’s time and resources.
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