Anwar Patrick Adrian v Ng Chong & Hue LLC

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
Judgment Date29 May 2014
Date29 May 2014
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 138 of 2013

Court of Appeal

Chao Hick Tin JA

,

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA

and

V K Rajah JA

Civil Appeal No 138 of 2013

Anwar Patrick Adrian and another
Plaintiff
and
Ng Chong & Hue LLC and another
Defendant

Tan Cheng Han SC (instructed), PBalachandran and Luo Ling Hui (Robert Wang & Woo LLP) for the appellants

Michael Khoo SC, Josephine Low and Andy Chiok (Michael Khoo & Partners) for therespondents.

Albacruz (Cargo Owners) v Albazero (Owners) (The Albazero) [1977] AC 774 (refd)

Alfred Mc Alpine Construction Ltd v Panatown Ltd [2001] 1 AC 518 (refd)

AXA Insurance UK Plc v Cunningham Lindsey United Kingdom [2007] EWHC 3023 (TCC) (refd)

Biggin&Co Ltd v Permanite Ltd [1951] 2 KB 314 (refd)

Britestone Pte Ltd v Smith&Associates Far East, Ltd [2007] 4 SLR (R) 855; [2007] 4 SLR 855 (folld)

Carr-Glynn v Frearsons [1999] Ch 326 (refd)

Clark Boyce v Mouat [1994] 1 AC 428 (refd)

Comyn Ching&Co Ltd v Oriental Tube Co Ltd (1979) 17 BLR 47 (refd)

Customsand Excise Commissioners v Barclays Bank plc [2007] 1 AC 181 (refd)

Darlington Borough Council v Wiltshier Northern Ltd [1995] 1 WLR 68 (refd)

Dean v Allin&Watts [2001] 2 Lloyd's Rep 249 (refd)

Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562 (refd)

Family Food Court v Seah Boon Lock [2008] 4 SLR (R) 272; [2008] 4 SLR 272 (refd)

General Feeds Inc Panama v Slobodna Plovidba Yugoslavia [1999] 1 Lloyd's Rep 688 (refd)

Go Dante Yap v Bank Austria Creditanstalt AG [2011] 4 SLR 559 (folld)

Groom v Selby [2001] Lloyd's Rep Med 39 (refd)

Hedley Byrne&Co Ltd v Heller&Partners Ltd [1964] AC 465 (distd)

Hill v Van Erp (1997) 188 CLR 159 (refd)

Hussain v New Taplow Paper Mills Ltd [1988] AC 514 (refd)

JD (FC) v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust [2005] 2 AC 373; [2005] Lloyd's Rep Med 263 (refd)

Jarvis v Moy, Davies, Smith, Vandervell&Co [1936] 1 KB 399 (refd)

John FHunt Demolition Ltd v ASME Engineering Ltd [2008] Bus LR 558 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ahmad Khalis bin Abdul Ghani [2006] 4 SLR (R) 308; [2006] 4 SLR 308 (folld)

Lee Siew Chun v Sourgrapes Packaging Products Trading Pte Ltd [1992] 3 SLR (R) 855; [1993] 2 SLR 297 (refd)

Lie Hendri Rusli v Wong Tan&Molly Lim [2004] 4 SLR (R) 594; [2004] 4 SLR 594 (folld)

Linden Gardens Trust Ltd v Lenesta Sludge Disposals Ltd [1994] 1 AC 85 (refd)

MARA, The [2000] 3 SLR (R) 31; [2000] 4 SLR 156 (folld)

Midland Bank Trust Co Ltd v Hett, Stubbs&Kemp [1979] Ch 384 (refd)

Ngiam Kong Seng v Lim Chiew Hock [2008] 3 SLR (R) 674; [2008] 3 SLR 674 (refd)

Parry v Cleaver [1970] AC 1 (refd)

Pickersgill v Riley [2004] PNLR 31 (refd)

Prosperland Pte Ltd v Civic Construction Pte Ltd [2004] 4 SLR (R) 129; [2004] 4 SLR 129 (refd)

Reeves v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2000] 1 AC 360 (refd)

Reeves v Thrings&Long [1996] PNLR 265 (folld)

Robinson v PEJones (Contractors) Ltd [2012] QB 44; [2011] BLR 206 (refd)

Ross v Caunters [1980] Ch 297 (refd)

See Toh Siew Kee v Ho Ah Lam Ferrocement (Pte) Ltd [2013] 3 SLR 284 (refd)

Smith v Eric SBush [1990] 1 AC 831 (refd)

Sotiros Shipping Inc v Sameiet Solholt [1983] 1 Lloyd's Rep 605 (refd)

Spandeck Engineering (S) Pte Ltd v Defence Science&Technology Agency [2007] 4 SLR (R) 100; [2007] 4 SLR 100 (folld)

Unity Insurance Brokers Pty Ltd v Rocco Pezzano Pty Ltd (1998) 192 CLR 603 (refd)

United Overseas Finance Ltd v Victor Sakayamary [1996] 2 SLR (R) 20; [1997] 3 SLR 211 (refd)

Vagg v Mc Phee [2013] NSWCA 29 (refd)

White v Jones [1995] 2 AC 207 (refd)

Worby v Rosser [1999] Lloyd's Rep PN 972 (refd)

X v Woollcombe Yonge [2001] Lloyd's Rep PN 274 (refd)

Land Titles Act (Cap 157, 2004 Rev Ed) ss 59 (2) (b) , 59 (3) , 59 (3 A) (consd)

Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act (Cap 53 B, 2002 Rev Ed)

Contract—Implied contract—Whether implied retainer existing between solicitor and third-party associates of solicitor's client—Whether solicitor breaching terms of implied retainer

Damages—Quantum—Whether benevolence principle applicable—Whether settlement with other parties reasonable—Whether settlement sum might be claimed from party in breach of duties

Tort—Duty of care—Whether solicitor owing third parties duty to exercise care in course of advising client

The appellants (‘the Appellants’) were the sons of one Agus Anwar (‘Agus’) who in the aftermath of the 2008 financial turmoil ended up owing a bank, Société Générale Bank&Trust (‘SGBT’), a huge amount of money under a credit facility. After several rounds of negotiations, SGBT agreed to forebear from suing Agus provided that he procured, amongst other things, further collateral including mortgages of properties owned by the Appellants. The terms of this forbearance agreement was recorded in writing (‘the Forbearance Agreement’). Documents to perfect the security (‘the Security Documents’) were then provided to Agus and the Appellants for their execution. The second respondent (‘Ng’) (and consequently his law firm, the first respondent (‘NCH’)), was retained by Agus to assist him in the negotiations with SGBT and was involved substantially in the negotiations with SGBT and the latter's solicitors.

In the course of the negotiations, SGBT initially demanded, as part of the additional security, a term requiring that the Appellants bear personal liability as well for Agus' loans but this was ultimately dropped from the terms of the Forbearance Agreement after Agus made known to SGBT that he would not agree to such a demand. However, in the Security Documents was a term which provided that the Appellants as mortgagors of the properties covered under the terms of the Forbearance Agreement covenanted to pay SGBT ‘on demand all sums of money now due and owing ... and such sums of money which are now or shall from time to time or at any time hereafter be owing or remain unpaid’ (‘the Personal Guarantee Clause’). Ng did not point this out to Agus or the Appellants who executed the Security Documents as per the Forbearance Agreement.

Despite the provision of additional security, Agus still could not meet his obligations under the credit facility to SGBT. This led to a suit in April 2009 by SGBT against, amongst others, Agus and the Appellants. SGBT's claim against the Appellants was premised on the Personal Guarantee Clause. After settling the action with SGBT for a sum of US$1 m, the Appellants sued the respondents (‘the Respondents’) to recover the settlement sum and their legal fees incurred in having to defend the suit which amounted to $325,287.71. They claimed that the Respondents' conduct amounted to a breach of an implied retainer or, in the alternative, a breach of a duty of care to take steps to protect their (the Appellants') interests.

The High Court held that there was no solicitor-client relationship between the Appellants and the Respondents and consequently there was no breach of any retainer. The Appellants' claim in tort for breach of a duty of care was also dismissed.

Held, allowing the appeal in part:

(1) A retainer might be implied where, on an objective consideration of all the circumstances, an intention to enter into such a contractual relationship ought fairly and properly to be imputed to all the parties. Although it was undisputed that Ng did not directly advise the Appellants, the inquiry did not end there. The absence of giving of advice, or even the absence of any meaningful contact, might in many cases be helpful in enabling the court to infer that no implied retainer had arisen on those facts, but that fact alone was not decisive:at [49] to [53] .

(2) There was an implied retainer as Ng had signed off as the ‘solicitor for the mortgagors’ on the ‘Certificate of Correctness’ which formed part of the Security Documents. The Certificate of Correctness was an official document of paramount importance because the Registrar of Titles and the public placed enormous faith on it. Ng, a seasoned solicitor, had to be taken to have known of the importance of his signing the Certificate of Correctness for the purposes of the mortgage of the properties held by the Appellants. In the circumstances that they found themselves in, the Appellants would also have legitimately considered Ng to be their solicitor:at [54] to [59] .

(3) The assumption of responsibility principle established in Hedley Byrne&Co Ltd v Heller&Partners Ltd[1964] AC 465 was inapplicable to the present facts and indeed to similar fact patterns generally. It would be pushing the boundaries of sensible argument to suggest that a solicitor in advising his client, with such advice potentially being of benefit to a third-party associate of the client, had undertaken to that third party a responsibility to take care in the giving of his advice. Similarly, it would strain the realm of reasonableness to argue that such a third party who might have been ignorant of the solicitor's existence had in fact relied on the solicitor's exercise of due care and skill in advising his client:at [71] .

(4) The parties accepted that White v Jones[1995] 2 AC 207 (‘White’) stood for the proposition that a duty of care might be owed by the solicitor to a third party directly even if there was no retainer between them. Ng's only contention was that the requisite proximity or nexus between him (and, consequently, NCH) and the Appellants was not made out. Crucially, Ng conceded that whether a duty of care and liability for a breach of that duty was visited upon him fell to be determined by the principles and framework established bySpandeck Engineering (S) Pte Ltd v Defence Science&Technology Agency[2007] 4 SLR (R) 100 (‘Spandeck’). Indeed, White could be accommodated within the two-stage Spandeck framework of proximity and policy considerations, even if the reasoning of the principles in White was different from the governing principles in Spandeck:at [83] , [114] and [189] .

(5) Thus, a solicitor owed a third party a duty to take care as long as the requirements...

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