Ang Leng Hock v Leo Ee Ah

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeJudith Prakash J
Judgment Date16 March 2004
Neutral Citation[2004] SGHC 55
Docket NumberSuit No 256 of 2000 (Registrar's Appeals Nos 382 and 385 of 2003 and Summons in
Date16 March 2004
Year2004
Published date23 March 2004
Plaintiff CounselGurdeep Singh (K S Chia Gurdeep and Param)
Citation[2004] SGHC 55
Defendant CounselLee Yuk Lan (Goh Poh and Partners)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterCivil Procedure,Whether Ladd v Marshall principles applicable,Negligence,Whether award of loss of future earnings or loss of earning capacity appropriate,Tort,Remedies,Registrar's appeals from assessment of damages to judge in chambers,Whether multiplier for costs of future medical expenses should be related to life expectancy or retirement age,Whether judge in chambers has discretion to allow further evidence,Appeals

16 March 2004 Judgment reserved.

Judith Prakash J:

Background

1 The plaintiff, Mr Ang Leng Hock, was riding his motorcycle on 29 January 1999 when it was involved in a collision with a taxi driven by the defendant, Mr Leo Ee Ah. Mr Ang was injured: his left shoulder was fractured, the second and third metatarsal heads of his left foot sustained crack fractures and his right wrist was sprained. At that time, Mr Ang was 41 years old.

2 This action was started in May 2000. Parties reached a settlement shortly before the trial and, on 18 August 2000, interlocutory judgment was entered for the plaintiff for damages to be assessed with costs and interest reserved to the registrar. The judgment further provided that the defendant was to be liable for 95% of the damages awarded to Mr Ang.

3 The assessment hearing took place before the assistant registrar over three days in August 2003 and her judgment was delivered on 9 October 2003. Mr Ang was awarded the following damages:

(a) pain and suffering and loss of amenities $ 20,000.00

(b) Loss of future earnings $244,062.00

(c) Future medical expenses $ 12,000.00

(d) Pre-trial loss of earnings $194,642.63

(e) Costs of repairs $1,000.00

(f) Loss of use of motorcycle $120.00

(g) Transport expenses $130.00

Neither party was completely satisfied with the award. Both appealed.

4 Mr Ang’s appeal is:

(a) against the assistant registrar’s decision that he was not entitled to his claim in respect of his alleged loss of earnings from his employment with Smith & Nephew Pte Ltd following the accident on 9 January 2000;

(b) against the assistant registrar’s decision that the appropriate multiplier to be applied to his loss of future earnings is six years (Mr Ang thinks it should be between eight and ten years); and

(c) against the assistant registrar’s decision not to make an award in his favour in respect of loss of earning capacity.

5 The defendant’s appeal is against the awards made in respect of Mr Ang’s pre-trial loss of earnings, his future loss of earnings and his medical expenses. The defendant’s position is that these awards are too high and must be reduced.

Summons-in-Chambers No 7063 of 2003

6 The two appeals were fixed for hearing on 18 November 2003. Some five days before that, the defendant filed a summons-in-chambers for leave to adduce further evidence at the hearing of the appeals. The further evidence that the defendant wished to adduce comprised the results of searches done at the Registry of Companies into the shareholders of a company called “Grand Court Vegetarian Restaurant Pte Ltd”. The grounds of the application were that:

(a) the nature of the evidence was such that had it been adduced at the hearing before the assistant registrar, Mr Ang could not have rebutted it; and

(c) the evidence would cast serious doubt on the credibility of Mr Ang and his witness, one Mr Gwee Tsu Sun.

This application was fixed for hearing on the same day as the appeals. Mr Gurdeep Singh, counsel for Mr Ang, objected to the admission of new evidence at this late stage. I dismissed the application and awarded costs to the plaintiff. I then went on to hear the appeals proper and at the end of the hearing I reserved my decision. Ms Lee Yuk Lan, counsel for the defendant, then wrote in for further arguments on the adduction of further evidence. I acquiesced to her request.

7 The main issue canvassed at the hearing of the further arguments was what was the appropriate test to be applied when a party to an assessment of damages that had taken place before the registrar wished to adduce further evidence at the hearing before the judge in chambers. When the issue was originally raised, I had taken the view, following Lassiter Ann Masters v To Keng Lam [2003] 3 SLR 666, that in such cases, the principles in Ladd v Marshall [1954] 1 WLR 1489 applied. Ms Lee sought to persuade me to change that view.

8 In Lassiter, Lai Siu Chiu J held that neither the fact that Registrar’s Appeals operated by way of rehearing nor O 38 r 2(3) of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 1997 Rev Ed) (“the Rules”) gave a judge in chambers the discretion to automatically admit further testimony (oral or written), where damages had already been assessed and judgment thereon delivered. To allow such applications would be to set a dangerous precedent and open the floodgates to abuse of the rule that Registrar’s Appeals were dealt with by way of rehearing. The principles of Ladd v Marshall applied even to Registrar’s Appeals.

9 Ms Lee’s first further submission was that an appeal against the decision of the Registrar to a judge in chambers is by way of a rehearing and that registrars are not trial judges. As such, an appeal from the registrar to the judge in chambers is not an appeal in the true sense as compared to an appeal from the judge in chambers or an appeal from a judge in open court to the Court of Appeal. Accordingly, the judge in chambers hearing the appeal treats the matter as though it came before him for the first time. In support of this submission, she cited Chang Ah Lek v Lim Ah Koon [1999] 1 SLR 82 and Herbs and Spices Trading Post Pte Ltd v Deo Silver (Pte) Ltd [1990] SLR 1234. I would point out that Chang Ah Lek, unlike Lassiter, was not a case that involved the admission of new evidence on appeal from an assessment hearing before the registrar. In Chang Ah Lek, the Court of Appeal was considering the manner in which a judge in chambers deals on the merits with an appeal from the registrar. There was no discussion at all relating to the judge’s powers to admit new evidence in such a situation. What was in issue was whether the judge could only interfere with the award made by the registrar if he was satisfied that the registrar had acted on a wrong principle of law or had misapprehended the facts or had made a wholly erroneous estimate of the damages suffered. Herbs and Spices dealt with the nature of the jurisdiction of a district judge in hearing appeals from the registrar of the District Court and it too has nothing to do with the issue before me. Neither of these cases, in my judgment, preclude me from applying the Ladd v Marshall principles to the present case.

10 Ms Lee’s second argument was that in determining whether to allow the admission of further evidence on appeal, a distinction has to be drawn between admitting such evidence before a judge in chambers and admitting it before the Court of Appeal. Whilst the Ladd v Marshall test would be applied in an application to admit further evidence on an appeal to the Court of Appeal, the judge in chambers hearing an appeal from the registrar is free to allow the admission of fresh evidence in the absence of contrary reasons. This is because whilst O 57 r 13(2) of the Rules specifies that further evidence may only be admitted before the Court of Appeal when there are special grounds for such admission, there is no equivalent provision or restriction in respect of an appeal to the judge in chambers against the decision of the registrar. Ms Lee relied on the Court of Appeal decision, Lian Soon Construction Pte Ltd v Guan Qian Realty Pte Ltd [1999] 2 SLR 233, which held that in this situation the judge in chambers was free to allow the admission of fresh evidence in the absence of contrary reasons.

11 The appellants in Lian Soon Construction were the main contractors engaged by the respondents for a building project. During the course of the works, the architects issued various interim certificates. The appellants only received payment in respect of some of these certificates. They therefore sued the respondents for payment in respect of the other certificates. They then took out an application for summary judgment. The respondents filed two affidavits for this hearing. At the hearing, the deputy registrar gave final judgment to the appellants. The respondents appealed. Subsequently they filed a summons-in-chambers for orders that they be at liberty to file an additional affidavit for the purpose of the appeal to the judge in chambers. This application was allowed and the further evidence was admitted. The appellants appealed against this decision and argued that the judge had erred in failing to apply the higher Ladd v Marshall test in determining whether to allow the admission of the new affidavit. They recognised that the practice in the UK was to readily allow fresh evidence on appeal to a judge in chambers. They argued, however, that this practice should no longer be followed since, as of August 1991, the position with respect to the procedure for filing affidavits under O 14 r 2 of the Rules had been amended in Singapore. A strict timetable was now prescribed by the Rules and there was no equivalent in the UK.

12 The judgment of the Court of Appeal was delivered by Karthigesu JA. His Honour recognised that the newly structured timetable for the filing and service of documents and new requirements in relation to the affidavit in support of the O 14 application had been introduced to ensure that O 14 proceedings were expedited and delays minimised. He then considered the Supreme Court Practice 1999 and Singapore Court Practice 1999 by Pinsler, both of which commented that a judge in chambers hearing an appeal from the registrar is entitled to treat the matter afresh as though it came before him for the first time and has an unfettered discretion to admit new evidence whilst the Court of Appeal does not have such unfettered discretion to receive further evidence on hearing an appeal on summary judgment and might only do so on “special grounds” as provided in O 57 r 13. Karthigesu JA then summarised the position as follows (at [38]):

The amendments to O 14 r 2 follow the rationale of summary proceedings and seek to expedite relief. Failure to comply strictly with those time limits may lead to an order for costs being made against the defaulting party: O 14 r 2(7). The rationale behind the amendments is distinct from the rationale behind...

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