by Choo Dee Wei
Published February 7, 2019
“There’s a court judgment? And it’s against me?” exclaimed Lim in exasperation. “What is a judgment in default anyway?” she asked to no one in particular.
We find Lim standing in front of his postbox. With an opened envelope and a judgment in default in her hand.
Generally, when someone sues another, the process starts with the plaintiff filing a writ and statement of claim in court. The plaintiff is the person suing and the defendant is the person being sued. The filing of the writ and statement of claim - let’s refer to it collectively as a ‘Claim’ - is what gives ‘life’ to a court case.
The Claim sets out the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant. The Claim must be served (which means it must be delivered) upon the defendant.
Once the defendant receives the Claim, the defendant would have 14 days (inclusive of the day she receives it) to enter an appearance. This is done by filing a memorandum of appearance (“MOA”). The defendant would have to deliver the MOA to the plaintiff. The MOA serves to show that the defendant is ‘present’ in the court case. If the defendant does not enter appearance to signify her ‘presence’, it then opens up the opportunity to the plaintiff to then obtain a judgment in default of appearance against the defendant. In other words, a judgment obtained because the defendant did not say she was ‘present’ in the court case.
A judgment in default of appearance would mean that the plaintiff can choose to execute on that judgment against the defendant utilising methods such as garnishing the defendant’s bank accounts, seize and seizure of the defendant’s assets and bankruptcy.
Assuming then the defendant does enter her appearance: the defendant would have 14 days to file and deliver her defence to the Claim. The calculation of 14 days to file the defence runs from the last day the defendant is to enter her appearance. As a repercussion in not filing a defence, the plaintiff would then have the opportunity to obtain a judgment in default of defence. In other words judgment is obtained because the defendant failed to file her defence.
The effect of the judgment in default of defence would entitle the plaintiff to execute on it.
A judgment in default, or commonly referred to in legal circles as a ‘‘JID’’, may sound unfair as the plaintiff had obtained a judgment by a technicality instead of upon the merits. To an extent, that’s true. But to the defendant, all is not lost, for she has the opportunity to get the court to set aside the JID. However, to do so, the defendant generally has 30 days to apply to have it set aside.
In Lim’s scenario, the moment when she opened the envelope containing the judgment in default, her 30-day countdown timer began ticking.
In other words, the moment Lim received the JID, she must apply to court to set it aside. Otherwise, it will remain a judgment of court against her. That, it is a shuddering thought.