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How Much Does It Cost To Sue Someone For Defamation in Singapore (updated)

How Much Does It Cost To Sue Someone For Defamation in Singapore?

profileHui Juan Neo

Unless you’re living under the rocks, you must’ve heard about the Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial.

The high profile US$50 million (S$68.8 million) defamation case involved Johnny Depp, best known as Captain Jack Sparrow in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean and his ex-wife Amber Heard, well-known as Mera in the Aquaman series.

Source: Yahoo News

Johnny Depp sued Amber Heard for defaming him when she called herself a “public figure representing domestic abuse” in a The Washington Post opinion piece.

Amber Heard then countersued him for US$100 million, saying that Depp smeared her when his lawyer called her accusations a “hoax”.

After a six-week trial, Depp won the trials and was awarded a total of US$15 million (S$20.6 million) in compensatory and punitive damages.

Amber Heard was awarded US$2 million (S$2.8 million) in compensatory damages too.

Aside from the juiciness of the trial, I also noticed that the damages… were in the millions.

Before this trial, in 2020, Depp actually lost a similar case in the United Kingdom in which he sued the Sun tabloid for calling him a “wife-beater”.

It was not clear how much was spent on the trial, but we all know that the damages paid for defamation cases and hiring a lawyer are not…cheap.

Being a curious creature, I’ve dug out information on how much it costs to sue someone for defamation.


TL;DR: How Much It Costs To Hire A Lawyer For Defamation, How The Damages Are Determined & What Other Costs You Need To Know

Costs Involved In A LawsuitCosts
Legal / Solicitor-and-client costsVary
Costs Guidelines for SummonsesCosts (excluding disbursements)
Nature of Application: Uncontested$1,000 - $5,000
Nature of Application: Contested
- Application on normal list lasting less than 45 mins
- Application on normal list lasting 45 mins or longer
- Complex or lengthy application fixed for special hearing (duration of 3hrs)
$2,000 - $5,000
$4,000 - $11,000
$9,000 - $22,000
Cost Guidelines for Trials (including Assessments of Damages)Costs
Party-and-Party Costs for trials (except for matters which are settled before trial)
Torts, including defamation
Pre-trial: $25,000 - $70,000
Trial (daily tariff): $6,000 - $16,000
Post-trial work: Up to $30,000
Party-and-Party Costs for matters which are settled before trial
Torts, including defamation
Pleadings: $5,000 - $14,000
Discovery: $10,000 - $28,000
AEICS: $10,000 - $28,000
Costs for taxation$1,500 - $5,000 excluding disbursements
Costs Guidelines for Originating SummonsesCosts
Nature of application: Uncontested$5,000 - $13,000
Nature of application: Contested$12,000 - $30,000 per day
Costs Guidelines for Appeals
Costs (per appeal/application basis)
Appeals before a Judge in the General Division
(including appeals from the State Courts)
$5,000 $35,000
Appeals before the Appellate Division or Court of Appeal against a judgment or order obtained in an interlocutory application
$15,000 - $40,000
Appeals before the Appellate Division or Court of Appeal against a judgment or order obtained following a trial or Originating Summon hearing$30,000 - $150,000
Applications determined by the Appellate Division or Court of Appeal without oral hearing$6,000 - $20,000
Applications determined by the Appellate Division or Court of Appeal after an oral hearing $9,000 - $35,000

Disclaimer: The table above should only be taken as a ballpark that gives you a general sense of the costs and procedures involved when starting a lawsuit. You will need to approach a lawyer or firm directly for an actual assessment of your case and its nature. The information provided by Seedly serves as an educational piece and is not intended to be personalised legal advice.

​Readers should always do their own due diligence and consider their circumstances before engaging a lawyer. Sources were from The Supreme Court, Law Society of Singapore, Tembusa Law, I.R.B Law and Attorney-General’s Chambers.

Click here to jump:


What is Defamation?

Before moving on to the costs, we should first talk about what ‘defamation’ means in the eyes of the law.

Source: Tenor

In Singapore, defamation is a criminal offence (section 499 of the Penal Code).

The police can actually take action and arrest the offender for defamation if sufficient evidence is found.

Defamation can give rise to a civil suit under the tort of defamation and the Defamation Act.

There are two types of defamation.

Firstly, libel – written words which are defaming and secondly, slander – spoken words which defame another person.

These are the criteria for a statement to be considered defamatory.

The statement in question...Criteria
Must be defamatoryA defamatory statement can be made in two ways: directly or indirectly. A statement that blames someone indirectly is known as an indirect statement. It is a statement that contains inferential meaning.

It is a defamatory statement if it lowers the victim in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, causes the victim to be shunned or avoided by society, or exposes the victim to hatred, contempt or ridicule by society.
Must refer to the victimThe statement must include the victim's name or a photograph of the victim. If no name or photo is offered, the court will consider if an indirect remark was made implying that the victim is the wrongdoer.

Careless words or poor research by the offender is not a valid defence for defamation.
Must be published, or communicated to a third partyA statement must be viewed by others before it can be considered defamatory.

The number of people who read the message has no bearing on whether or not it is defamatory. However, the court will consider the number of people who viewed the statement when calculating damages. The amount of damages is proportional to the number of people who read the statement.

It is necessary to prove that the defamer has the intention, knowledge or had reason to believe his or her words would harm the victim’s reputation before this person can be charged for defamation.

There are different remedies in a defamation lawsuit, but the most common one we’ve heard of is financial damages or compensation.

Financial damages are awarded for the purpose of easing the distress suffered by the claimant/plaintiff, as well as restoring his or her damaged reputation.

The next common outcome would be injunctions, which the court orders issued to the perpetrator to cease and desist.

This either prohibits them from future publications of defamatory statements or requires them to retract the defamatory statement.

Prominent Defamation Case in Singapore

Closer to home, we’ve also witnessed some high profile defamation cases.

The most prominent of all should be the one between Roy Ngerng and Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong.

Source: Newnation.sg

If you don’t know…

Blogger Roy Ngerng accused PM Lee Hsien Loong, in his 15 May 2014 blog, who is also Chairman of GIC (sovereign wealth fund of Singapore) of misusing the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

After the defamation lawsuit, Ngerng had to pay Mr Lee $150,000 in damages, which will be paid in instalments over a span of 17 years.

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How Much Do You Need To Hire A Lawyer For Defamation?

Source: Tenor

Before you hire a lawyer, you should first understand that cases are also categorised into Non-Contentious versus Contentious matters.

Non-Contentious refers to the drafting of wills, contracts etc. and Contentious involves proceedings before a court of justice or an arbitrator.

Before hiring a lawyer, these are some costs you need to know.

1. Legal Costs, aka Solicitor-and-Client (S&C) Costs

Source: Tenor

First of all…it’s not cheap to hire a lawyer.

This is even more so if their area of practice is in defamation lawsuits.

There are various factors affecting the legal costs:

  • The rarity of expertise in the market
  • Law firm-specific factors such as the size and location of the firm, seniority or demand for a particular lawyer and their reputation in the practice area
  • The complexity of the case is based on the amount of time and effort they need to put into it and how many lawyers are required
  • How much damages (legally known as Quantum of the dispute) you are claiming for.

In layman’s terms, a higher quantum = case dealt with at a higher level = the pool of litigators may be smaller, hence more expensive to do so.

Some lawyers would give an open-ended hourly rate to take the conduct a matter.

There are those who would give an hourly rate but agree to a fee cap.

Similarly, there are lawyers who may give an hourly rate but with a rough estimate of the anticipated range of fees to complete a case.

2. Party-And-Party (P&P) Costs

P&P refers to the costs paid from one litigant to the other, after the lawsuit.

The cost order that the court issues determines which party should pay the P&P costs.

5 Types of Cost OrdersWhat It Is
Costs in the causeGenerally, the losing party will be liable for the P&P costs, on top of the S&C costs owing to its own lawyer.

The winning party can use this amount of P&P costs to offset (either partially or fully) the S&C costs it has incurred from engaging its lawyer.

There are also exceptions where the winning party is not awarded costs too.
Claimant’s costs / Defendant’s costs

Note: the claimant was also previously referred to as the“plaintiff”
These costs are awarded to the named party only if it succeeds in the proceedings. However, if the named party is the losing party, then it need not pay the costs of the other party.

For example, if the court has ordered the defendant’s costs, then the claimant must pay P&P costs to the defendant if the defendant wins the case. However, if the defendant loses the case, the defendant need not pay P&P costs to the claimant.
Costs in any eventOne party is awarded the costs for interlocutory matters regardless of whether the party is successful in the civil suit.
Costs thrown awayThese costs are awarded to one party to compensate the party whose time, effort and expenses properly incurred in doing a certain action(s) were “wasted” because of something the other party did later. For example, the amendment of pleading of one party causes the other party to amend its pleading.
No orders as to costThe P&P costs are not payable from one party to the other and each party should bear their own S&C costs.

You can refer to the Supreme Court’s Costs Guidelines for Party-And-Party Costs Awards to get a sense of the costs involved in a lawsuit.

Source: Supreme Court

3. Damages

These are some factors that will be used to assess the appropriate damages awarded for defamation.

1The nature of the defamationHow serious and offensive were the defamatory words?
2Reputational standing of the partiesThe reputation of both the plaintiff (person who initiated the lawsuit) and the defendant are important.
3How extensive the publication of the defamatory statement is, and the medium used to convey it.For example, any statement published on the internet/ to the public will draw a larger crowd, and will incur greater damages.
4The conduct of the partiesWere the defamatory statements repeated? Is there remorse shown? Did the defendant apologise or refuse to apologise?
5The effect of the defamation on the plaintiffIf the plaintiff, (in this case, the government) can show that he or she suffered financial and/or loss of reputation, the court would award a greater amount of damages.

Source: Farallon Law Corporation

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Steps To Take If You Are A Victim of Defamation…

Source: Giphy

Cat attacc….

Jokes aside…if you happen to be a victim of defamation, there are actionable steps to take.

You can first make a police report, and provide enough evidence to show that the person who made the statement intended, knew, or had reason to think that the statement made would harm your reputation.

Thereafter, you can choose to commence a civil lawsuit or explore an application under the Protection from Harassment Act.

You can also choose to resort to mediation, arbitration, or a private settlement outside of court.

But, if in doubt, always get professional legal advice.

If you can’t afford a lawyer, you can consider engaging a pro-bono lawyer, but there are also criteria to fulfil.

1. Provide A Concise Brief Of The Issue

Source: Giphy

As with any shopping you do, it’s important to save time by giving a detailed and concise brief of the occurrence when you’re looking for a lawyer.

This will give them a clear purpose of the case and information before quoting you.

2. Have Your Bill Taxed

According to Singapore Legal Advice, you can actually have your legal bill “taxed”. This means allowing the court to examine the legal bills.

If the cost is significantly more than the market rate, the court may order that it be reduced, and the lawyer will refund the difference to you.

Any civil litigation is complicated and expensive.

And sometimes, depending on the outcome and your circumstances, it might take a lifetime to pay for a single mistake.

To better protect yourself from being sued for defamation, it’s important to know what constitutes defamation and the defences against defamation.

If you were to run into it…

Source: Tenor

I hope you can smile like Captain Jack Sparrow after the lawsuit.

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