The Role of Service Bureaux in EFS

This article first appeared in the February 2000 Issue of the Singapore Law Gazette published by the Law Society of Singapore.

Introduction

When EFS is launched on 1 March 2000, all court documents arising from proceedings commenced by writ of summons will have to be filed electronically, either from the law office itself or through the service bureaux. Law firms that do not intend to acquire the EFS Front End Application (i.e., the software application that enables a law office to file court documents electronically) will have to file their documents through the service bureaux.

There are two service bureaux, one located at No 2 Havelock Road, #06-01, Apollo Centre, Singapore 059763 (the Apollo Centre bureau) and the other at the 2nd Level of the City Hall Building (the City Hall bureau). Documents intended for the Subordinate Courts have to filed through the Apollo Centre bureau while Supreme Court documents will have to be filed through the City Hall bureau. It is only when one of the service bureaux is not able to function that documents intended for either court may be filed through the remaining service bureau or through any other service bureau established by the Registrar of the Supreme/Subordinate Courts.

Law firms that have the Front End Application will also be using the service bureaux if:

  1. the documents are required to be filed on an immediate basis;
  2. the documents cannot be converted into electronic format;
  3. the law firm wishes to file through the service bureau for some reason.

The service bureaux also cater to the small number of litigants who opt to act in person.

An example when documents are required to be filed on an immediate basis is when an urgent injunction is intended to be applied for.

Procedures – Overview

Details of the procedures at the service bureaux are set out in the Supreme Court Practice Directions No 3 of 1999 and in the Subordinate Courts Practice Directions No 3 of 1999. The two practice directions are for all practical purposes similar. I will only be referring to the Supreme Court Practice Directions in this article.

Law firms may submit documents to the service bureaux either:

  1. in paper form;
  2. in electronic form; or
  3. in physical form for documents that cannot be converted into electronic form.

If documents are submitted in electronic form, they must be submitted either in 3.5″ floppy diskettes, 100MB Iomega Zip Cartridges or CD-ROMs.

Documents in electronic form can be submitted either in Microsoft Word 6.0, Microsoft Word 95, Microsoft Word 97 or in portable document format (pdf). Where documents contain colour pages that are intended to be filed in colour, these have to be indicated in designated forms.

Submission of Documents to the Service Bureaux

Documents for submission to the service bureaux must be accompanied by:

  1. one set of the Paper Filing Template for the type of document being filed;
  2. two sets of the Requisition Forms;
  3. the requisite filing fee either in cash or by firm’s cheque or cashier’s order made in favour of Singapore Network Services Pte Ltd;
  4. a letter of authorisation (in a prescribed form) from the law firm on the law firm’s letterhead authorising the person filing to file the documents on behalf of the law firm; and
  5. the documents concerned.

The Paper Filing Templates must be signed by the solicitor in charge. The Paper Filing Template contains information about the law firm submitting the document, the parties to the action and information about the documents being submitted. Incorrectly completed templates may result in the documents being rejected by the service bureau or worse, documents may be stored electronically in the incorrect location and may no longer be found. To reduce the chances of such mistakes, law firms can indicate on the Paper Filing Template that they wish to verify the submission before it is sent by the service bureau to the courts. If the law firm fails to carry out the verification process within two working days from the date of submission, the submission will be deleted by the service bureau.

It is important to remember that documents filed through the service bureau are only deemed to have been filed when the first part of such documents reach the servers of the court and not when they are submitted to the service bureau. There are about 40 different Paper Filing Templates; some have to be completed for all documents filed while others are specific to certain documents. Since the Paper Filing Templates have to be signed by the solicitor concerned, they cannot be completed by a law firm’s filing clerk when the documents are brought to the service bureau.

After the documents have been accepted by the service bureau, one copy of the Requisition Form is returned. This form must be produced when collecting any replies from the courts relating to the documents filed.

Documents submitted through the service bureau can be submitted on three different basis of urgency: normal, urgent and immediate. The basis of urgency has to be indicated on the Requisition Forms.

Documents like affidavits have to be bookmarked and linked. Once again, forms for bookmarking and linking have to be completed and submitted.

Documents can only be submitted in a single submission if:

  1. all the documents pertain to the same case;
  2. all the documents are to be processed at the same “urgency”;
  3. all the documents must be for submission to the same counter or section, if the counter or section is specified; and
  4. there can only be one main document in each submission, withthe sole exception of a fresh writ of summons with a fresh ex-parte summons-in-chambers for an interim injunction.

What constitutes a main document is set out in paragraph 43G(3)of the Supreme Court Practice Direction No 3 of 1999. There are 20 documents listed as main documents, among which are writs of summons, summons-in-chambers, orders of court and judgments. All the forms and templates may be obtained online from the EFSwebsite at http://www.efs.com.sg/. Copies of the forms are also available at the service bureaux.

There are certain limits as to the size of documents for filingthrough the service bureaux. A single submission cannot contain more than 99 documents and cannot exceed (if in electronic form) 500 mega-bytes. A single document cannot exceed 9,999 pages. If the documents exceed these limits, special directions will be given on how such documents are to be filed.

Documents for submission to the service bureaux which can beconverted to electronic form have to be prepared in a specified manner:

  1. documents cannot be larger than A3 size, larger documents have to be reduced in size;
  2. documents should only be printed on one side of the page;
  3. documents not exceeding 30 pages have to be stapled;
  4. documents exceeding 30 pages have to be submitted looseleaf form in a 2-hole ring binder;
  5. documents should be serially numbered on the top right handcorner of each document corresponding to the serial number in the Requisition Form.

Once the documents have been processed by the service bureau anda reply received from the courts, the paper documents are returned to the law firm.

Collection of Documents from the Service Bureaux

Replies from the courts will have to be collected via the service bureaux. If a submission previously made contains more than one document, replies from the courts may be sent at different times. The Requisition Form must be produced when collecting all replies. Further, if the filing fees paid at the time of submission of the documents were incorrect, the difference will have to be paid before the replies can be collected. In most cases, the replies will only consist of the first page of the document with the required seal of the court affixed and other information (eg the date and time of a hearing) endorsed thereon.

If the Requisition Form is lost, the person who filed the submission must attend in person at the service bureau and produce his identification, if requested, before he can collect the document.

If a reply from the court is lost by a law firm, a copy can beobtained within one month of the reply upon completion of a Requisition Form and payment of a S$10 surcharge.

Cost of Using the Service Bureaux

Under Practice Direction No 3 of 1999, documents filed throughthe service bureaux will attract a surcharge of 15% of the standard filing fees for the document concerned. The surcharge will be imposed on documents filed after 30 June 2000. This surcharge is to cover the administrative cost of maintaining the service bureaux. In addition, the document handling charge for documents filed through the service bureaux is S$25 per document, instead of S$5 if filed through the law firm’s own system. Colour pages attract a further charge of $0.10 per page. There is no colour page charge for documents filed through the law firm’s own system.

Further, a law firm is not allowed to claim on behalf of itsclient in party to party taxation the additional cost of S$0.50 per page for documents filed through the service bureau. If the law firm had filed the document from its own office, they will be entitled to do so.

Conclusion

For most law firms, the service bureaux will probably be their first contact with EFS. As can be seen from this brief outline with the procedures at the service bureaux, it is very different from the existing practice. Lawyers intending to use the service bureaux will have to familiarise themselves and their staff of the procedures. Mistakes can be costly. It can result in fees having to be paid again or worse, documents going missing. Even law firms with their own Front End Application cannot ignore the service bureaux as there will be instances when they will also be using their services.