ACU v ACR

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeWoo Bih Li J
Judgment Date29 October 2010
Neutral Citation[2010] SGHC 322
Plaintiff CounselGrace Malathy d/o Ponnusamy (Grace M & Associates)
Docket NumberDivorce No 4940 of 2007 (RAS No 139 of 2009 and Summons 9958 of 2010)
Date29 October 2010
Hearing Date14 April 2010,30 July 2010,02 August 2010,28 June 2010,17 September 2010
Subject MatterFamily Law,Civil Procedure,Matrimonial Home,Appeals,Care and Control,Matrimonial Assets,Custody
Published date05 April 2011
Citation[2010] SGHC 322
Defendant CounselMahendra S Segeram (Segeram & Co)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Year2010
Woo Bih Li J: Introduction

The appellant (“the Wife”) and the respondent (“the Husband”) were married on 15 May 2001. An interim judgment was granted on 20 August 2008 in divorce proceedings initiated by the Husband. At the conclusion of the ancillary hearings in Chambers on 30 October 2009, District Judge Sowaran Singh (“the District Judge”) ordered, among other things, that (i) the two children of the family should be held in joint custody, (ii) the Husband should have care and control of the children with access to the Wife on certain terms, and (iii) the Wife should transfer her rights, title and interest in the parties’ matrimonial flat to the Husband with the Wife to be paid $14,000 with money from the Husband’s Central Provident Fund (“CPF”) account. The Wife appealed to this court under Order 55C (“O 55C”) of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R5, 2006 Rev Ed) (“Rules of Court”) in respect of these aspects of the District Judge’s decision. A stay of execution was ordered in respect of the District Judge’s judgment by Deputy Registrar Regina Ow-Chang Yee Lin on 13 January 2010. From the initiation of the divorce up to these proceedings, the parties continued to live together with their two children at the matrimonial flat. At the time of the hearing of this appeal, the parties’ daughter is seven years old, while their son is four years old.

Under Notice of Appeal (Amendment No. 1), the Wife sought (i) care and control of the two children, (ii) sole discretion in determining issues relating to the education and choice of schools of the two children, and (iii) an order of sale of the matrimonial flat with her being entitled to 40% of the net proceeds of sale.

At the first hearing of the appeal on 14 April 2010, the Wife was represented by a new counsel, Ms Grace Malathy (“Ms Malathy”). Ms Malathy sought an adjournment as she had not obtained all the documents she needed and had not prepared or served the Record of Appeal and her written submissions. I granted an adjournment.

By the second hearing of the appeal on 28 June 2010, the Wife had filed an application on 15 June 2010 under Summons 9958 of 2010 for leave to adduce fresh affidavit evidence. I allowed the application partially. I will say more later about this application.

The hearing of the main appeal then proceeded but in the course of Ms Malathy’s submission, she asked for leave to file an affidavit to state the Wife’s parenting plan if she was given care and control of the two children. This was in response to an inquiry from me on the same. I granted an adjournment for the Wife to file a further affidavit on: her parenting plan; any maintenance she might be seeking for the children if she was granted care and control; and whether the study courses she had attended were on a part-time or full-time basis as this was disputed. I also allowed the Husband to file an affidavit in reply.

The appeal was next fixed for hearing on 30 July 2010. After perusing the affidavits filed I required information about the daily routine of the children to be provided by the parties. I also decided to interview the parents and the children.

The interview was conducted on 2 August 2010. By then some information on the daily routine of the children was provided. Thereafter, the appeal was adjourned to a special date to be fixed for counsel to complete their submissions, including submissions on an alternative basis i.e. if the respective party did not achieve his or her primary objective.

At the final hearing of the appeal on 17 September 2010, Ms Malathy applied to amend the Notice of Appeal to include prayers for (i) monthly maintenance for the children in the event the Wife was granted care and control of the children, and (ii) increased access to the children in the event she was not granted such care and control. The Husband’s counsel, Mr Mahendra S Segeram (“Mr Segeram”) objected on the basis that this was a late stage of the proceedings.

On the facts, it was clear that the Wife wished to seek maintenance for the children if she was granted care and control. I had also indicated to parties at the hearing on 2 August 2010 that I would like to hear their submissions on an alternative basis. For these reasons, I allowed the Wife to amend her Notice of Appeal to reflect these new prayers.

I now come back to summons 9958 of 2010 which was an application for leave to introduce fresh affidavit evidence. I add that at the hearing on 17 September 2010, Ms Malathy also made an oral application seeking leave to file yet another further affidavit to exhibit a new letter of employment and to state when the Wife was able to return home each day after work. I will address the issue of new evidence before addressing the substantive issues.

Leave to adduce fresh evidence Summons 9958 of 2010

In Summons 9958 of 2010, the Wife prayed for leave to adduce the following pieces of additional evidence: A medical report for the Wife prepared by one Dr Lim Yun Chin (“Dr Lim”) (a psychiatrist from Raffles Hospital) dated 24 January 2010. Photographs of the parties’ son with bruising/redness on his body. Photographs of a diaper with staples stapled into it. A printout of the “Frequently Asked Questions” (“FAQ”) section of the Singapore Institute of Management website indicating general information on course schedules. A photocopy of part of the Wife’s cheque book.

The Court’s power to admit fresh evidence at an appeal is generally controlled by the rule in Ladd v Marshall (1954) 1 WLR 1489 (“Ladd v Marshall”) as applied by the Singapore courts. In Ladd v Marshall, Denning LJ (as he then was) stated the three-part rule at 1491:

…To justify the reception of fresh evidence… three conditions must be fulfilled: first, it must be shown that the evidence could not have been obtained with reasonable diligence for use at the trial; secondly, the evidence must be such that, if given, it would probably have an important influence on the result of the case, though it need not be decisive; thirdly, the evidence must be such as is presumably to be believed, or in other words, it must be apparently credible, though it need not be incontrovertible.

Hodson LJ (as he then was) agreed, and at 1492 referred to what was then O 58 r 4 of the English Rules of the Supreme Court, which stated:

The Court of Appeal shall have... full discretionary power to receive further evidence upon questions of fact... Upon appeals from a judgment after trial or hearing of any cause or matter upon the merits, such further evidence (save as to matters subsequent...) shall be admitted on special grounds only, and not without special leave of the Court. ...

However, the Singapore Court of Appeal qualified the operation of Ladd v Marshall in the context of registrar’s appeals in the case of Lian Soon Construction Pte Ltd v Guan Qian Realty Pte Ltd [1999] 1 SLR(R) 1053 (“Lian Soon Construction”). There M Karthigesu JA, delivering the grounds of judgment of the Court of Appeal, said at [37]-[38]:

37 The position on evidence on appeals from summary judgment is found in The Supreme Court Practice 1999 at para 14/4/45: On the other hand, the Court of Appeal does not have an unfettered discretion to receive further evidence on hearing an appeal against a summary judgment in favour of a plaintiff in proceedings under O 14 or O 86 and it might do so only on 'special grounds' as provided by O 59 r 10(2) within the limits laid down, per Denning LJ in Ladd v Marshall...

Pinsler, in Singapore Court Practice 1999, agrees that this distinction should be drawn. The rationale behind the different thresholds employed in allowing evidence before a judge in chambers as compared to the Court of Appeal may be understood from an extract from The Supreme Court Practice 1999, at para 58/1/3: An appeal from the Master or District Judge to the Judge in Chambers is dealt with by way of an actual rehearing of the application which led to the order under appeal, and the Judge treats the matter as though it came before him for the first time, save that the party appealing, even though the original application was not by him but against him, has the right as well as the obligation to open the appeal. The Judge "will of course give the weight it deserves to the previous decision of the Master; but he is in no way bound by it" (per Lord Atkin in Evans v Bartlam [1937] AC 473 at 478). The Judge in Chambers is in no way fettered by the previous exercise of the Master's discretion, and on appeal from the Judge in Chambers, the Court of Appeal will treat the substantial discretion as that of the Judge, and not of the Master (Evans v Bartlam, above; Cooper v Cooper [1936] WN 205; and Cremin v Barjack Properties Ltd (1985) 273 Est Gaz 299, CA).

An appeal to the Court of Appeal also operates by way of a rehearing. Although it does not mean that witnesses are heard afresh, the court considers the whole of the evidence given below and the whole course of the trial. It is, as a rule, a rehearing on the documents of the evidence. The powers of the Court of Appeal are principally statutory, but supplemented where necessary by its inherent jurisdiction as a superior court of record. With regard to the adduction of fresh...

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