Singapore's Merlion, Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons
Singapore’s Merlion, Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons

[This post was rendered moot on December 1, 2023 with the entry into force of the Hague Service Convention in Singapore.  For updated procedures, simply click here.]

At the far south end of the Malay Peninsula lies a tiny city state that occasionally makes the news for seemingly odd reasons.  Caning and imprisonment as a punishment for vandalism.  A ban on chewing gum (seriously).  A ban on spitting (well, let’s face it… it’s rude).  But rather than a center of arguably harsh rules on public behavior, the nation is more rightfully known as an economic juggernaut.  Anchoring the SIJORI Growth Triangle, Singapore’s manufacturing sector is huge, but financial services take an even bigger share of GDP.  North America’s commercial interconnection with Singapore is massive, and this inevitably leads to a fair amount of litigation against Singaporean companies and nationals by plaintiffs on this side of the Pacific.

Singapore is not party to the Hague Service Convention (HSC), although it has acceded to the Hague Evidence* and Child Abduction Conventions (it is also party to the Choice of Court Convention, which is not effective in either the U.S. or Canada).  Notwithstanding its absence from the HSC, serving documents in Singapore is relatively straightforward, owing to its status as a former British colony and current member of the Commonwealth of Nations.  It maintains a healthy common law system, so it should not be unfamiliar to American or Canadian** lawyers.

Service of U.S. process can be effected (1) by mail, if permissible under forum court rules, (2) by Letter Rogatory, or (3) via local counsel.  In all cases, enforcement of a judgment must be kept in mind– and it is in that light that I recommend Door #3 for just about all cases.  Addressing each in turn:

  1. Mail:  Most U.S. courts, where service is allowable by mail to begin with, allow mail service on foreign defendants only where it is not prohibited by the rules of the foreign jurisdiction.  Singapore’s Rules of Court do not specifically prohibit mail service, but they really don’t contemplate the issue.  Order 10, Rule 1(1) states that “a writ must be served personally on each defendant” (emphasis added), which opens up the question to far more argument than mail service ostensibly prevents (in short, does mail ever constitute personal service?).  I recommend against mail service except in very limited circumstances anyway– even if it stands on solid legal ground, it’s a bad idea from a factual perspective.  Moreover, if you ever seek to enforce your judgment in Singapore (or anywhere else overseas), the foreign court will undoubtedly question why you didn’t adhere strictly to Order 10.
  2. Letter Rogatory:  an official request from the forum court for judicial assistance from a Singaporean court.  Costly and time consuming, this instrument really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (see here for elaboration on what it is).  For starters, budget a $2,275 fee to the Department of State just to convey the thing.  Then anticipate several months of waiting before a response comes back through diplomatic channels.  A Letter Rogatory simply isn’t necessary to ensure that service is effected according to Singaporean law.
  3. Local Counsel:  Potentially costly, but no more so than a Letter Rogatory, and certainly on a more solid legal footing than mail.  A Singapore solicitor can ensure that local rules are followed, thus ensuring that the manner of service will not give a court cause to reject an enforcement action later.  Just make sure that the proof of service demonstrates compliance with both bodies of law (Singapore and the forum court).

Some non-Hague jurisdictions present significant problems with service.  Singapore is definitely not one of them— indeed, it is among the simplest places to serve, either within or outside the Hague community.

* Recall that subpoenas are not viewed as “service” documents in most of the world.  Compulsion of evidence in Singapore for use in U.S. courts must be sought via a Hague Evidence Request.

** Commonwealth procedures may govern the manner in which Canadian process should be served in Singapore.  The author is not admitted to practice in any non-U.S. jurisdiction, so although the information presented here may be accurate, it should not be presumed to be applicable in Canadian causes of action.