This article is produced by CMS Holborn Asia, a Formal Law Alliance between CMS Singapore and Holborn Law LLC.
The long-anticipated repeal of the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act 1921 (“RECJA”) came into effect on 1 March 2023 (the “Repeal”). On the same date, amendments to the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act 1959 (“REFJA”) came into force, and judgments from reciprocating Commonwealth countries which were previously governed by the RECJA will now be governed by the REFJA. These amendments expand the scope of the REFJA and, together with the Repeal, enhance the enforcement of foreign judgments regime in Singapore.
Consolidation of Reciprocal Enforcement Framework
Pursuant to the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgements (United Kingdom and the Commonwealth) Order 2023 (“UK and Commonwealth Order”), the countries to which the REFJA now applies are:
- the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;
- New Zealand;
- Sri Lanka;
- Brunei Darussalam; and
- Papua New Guinea.
The inclusion of these countries is in addition to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, to which the REFJA has applied since 1 July 1997, following the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China.
For the purpose of reciprocal enforcement under the REFJA, not all judgments of courts from countries listed in the UK and Commonwealth Order or the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China) Order (“Hong Kong Order”) will be recognised. Notably, the UK and Commonwealth Order and the Hong Kong Order set out the specific courts to which reciprocity will be extended, while the UK and Commonwealth Order specifies the types of judgment which will be recognised. If a judgment from a recognised court falls within the description set out in the relevant order, the foreign judgments can then be registered under Part 1 of the REFJA.
Enhancement of Reciprocal Enforcement Framework
Prior to the amendments coming into force, only final money judgments from foreign superior reciprocating courts in civil proceedings and final judgments given by foreign superior reciprocating courts in any criminal proceedings for the payment of damages or compensation to an injured party were recognised under the REFJA. The scope of the REFJA has now been expanded pursuant to the REFJA Amendment Act to include:
- non-money judgments in civil proceedings if the Singapore courts consider such enforcement to be just and convenient;
- lower court judgments in civil proceedings from the State Courts to be enforced in foreign jurisdictions on a reciprocal basis; and
- interlocutory judgments (such as a freezing injunction).
The single statutory regime also provides that certain types of foreign judgments will not be recognised to ensure that the reciprocity requirements in the REFJA are not circumvented, including:
- a judgment given by a recognised court on appeal from a court that is not a recognised court;
- a judgment or other instrument that is regarded for the purposes of its enforcement as a judgment of a recognised court but which was given or made in another foreign country; and
- a judgment given by a recognised court in proceedings founded on a judgment of a court in another foreign country and having as their object the enforcement of the second mentioned judgment.
Moreover, a foreign judgment may not be registered if the registering court is satisfied that the notice of registration had not been served on the judgment debtor, or that notice of registration was defective.
The consolidation of the REFJA regime streamlines Singapore’s legal framework for statutory recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil proceedings, although there still remain two other avenues through which judgments of foreign courts may be given effect to in Singapore; namely, via the Choice of Courts Agreement Act 2016 (which gives effect to the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements), as well as under existing common law rules. This positive development heralds a new future as Singapore continues to negotiate reciprocal enforcement agreements or arrangements with other foreign countries.
Article co-authored by Dominic Soh, Trainee at CMS Holborn Asia