Ong Pang Wee and Others v Chiltern Park Development Pte Ltd

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeChao Hick Tin JA
Judgment Date13 March 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] SGCA 9
Citation[2003] SGCA 9
Defendant CounselTan Yeow Hiang (Khattar Wong & Partners)
Plaintiff CounselRoderick E Martin , Gerald Sim (Martin & Partners)
Date13 March 2003
Published date17 December 2003
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 72 of 2002
Subject MatterWhether proceedings can be transferred directly from Magistrate's Court to High Court,Transfer of proceedings,Civil Procedure,Jurisdiction,Subordinate Courts Act (Cap 321, 1999 Rev Ed), Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed)

Delivered by Judith Prakash J

1 This appeal is centred on whether the High Court has power under the relevant legislation to transfer proceedings started in the Magistrate’s Court to itself.

2 The action which gave rise to this issue was a Magistrate’s Court case (‘the MC Suit’) brought by Chiltern Park Development Pte Ltd (‘the developer’), the respondent in this appeal against the appellants, three individuals (‘the purchasers’) who had bought an apartment from the developer. The developer’s claim was for $13,433.47 being maintenance fees allegedly due from the purchasers. The MC Suit was started in July 2000. In September 2000, the purchasers filed a defence and counterclaim for damages for defects in the apartment and loss of use and/or rental. By May 2002, the purchasers had quantified their damages at around $353,900, a sum that is far in excess of the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Courts.

3 The purchasers then took out an originating summons in the High Court applying for the action to be transferred from the Magistrates’ Courts to the High Court. Their application was heard by Woo Bih Li JC (as he then was) in June 2002 and was dismissed with costs.

The decision of the court below

4 In coming to his decision, Woo JC had to interpret and deal with provisions in the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322) (‘the SCJA’), in the Subordinate Courts Act (Cap 321) (‘the SCA’), and in the Rules of Court. In the SCJA the relevant provisions are s 18 and paragraph 10 of the First Schedule. These respectively read as follows:

Powers of High Court

18. (1) The High Court shall have such powers as are vested in it by any written law for the time being in force in Singapore.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the High Court shall have the powers set out in the First Schedule.

(3) The powers referred to in subsection (2) shall be exercised in accordance with any written law or Rules of Court relating to them.

FIRST SCHEDULE

ADDITIONAL POWERS OF THE HIGH COURT

Transfer of proceedings

10. Power to transfer any proceedings to any other court or to or from any subordinate court, and in the case of transfer to or from a subordinate court to give any directions as to the further conduct thereof, except that this power shall be exercised in such manner as may be prescribed by Rules of Court.

5 The relevant sections of the SCA considered at first instance are ss 24(1) and (2), 37 and 38. Sections 24(1) and 38 deal with the transfer of proceedings from the District Court to the High Court whilst s 37 deals with the transfer of an action from the High Court to the District Court.

6 The heading appearing above s 24 states ‘Transfer of counterclaim from District Court to High Court’ and ss(1) of the section provides that ‘where, in an action founded on contract or tort in a District Court, any counterclaim or set off and counterclaim of any defendant involves a matter beyond the jurisdiction of the District Court’ any party to the action is entitled to apply to the High Court for the whole proceedings or the counterclaim alone to be transferred to the High Court. By sub-s (2) when such an application is made the High Court may order either (a) that the whole proceedings be transferred to it or (b) that the whole proceedings be tried in the District Court or (c) that the proceedings on the counterclaim be transferred to the High Court and the proceedings on the plaintiff’s claim be tried in the District Court. By s 38 the High Court can order a civil proceeding pending in the District Court to be transferred to the High Court because it involves an important question of law or is a test case or because for some other sufficient reason it is one that should be tried in the High Court.

7 The argument of the purchasers before the judge was that the power given by paragraph 10 of the First Schedule was a very wide power that gave the High Court the ability to transfer any proceedings from any subordinate court to any other court and that this must mean that the High Court had the power to transfer a proceeding from the Magistrate’s Court which is a subordinate court to the High Court itself. Woo JC, however, took the view that paragraph 10 had to be read subject to s 18(3) of the SCJA which specifically provided that the powers referred to in s 18(2) which in turn referred to the First Schedule ‘shall be exercised in accordance with any written law or Rules of Court relating to them’. He also noted that s 18(2) was consistent with the wording of s 18(1) which states that the High Court’s powers are those which are ‘vested in it by any written law’. Thus, the High Court could not transfer proceedings between courts except as it was permitted to do by legislative provisions.

8 Woo JC held that the written law that was relevant for the purpose of the application before him was the SCA. He examined ss 24, 38 and 41 of the SCA and came to the conclusion that the scheme under the SCA envisaged a transfer of proceedings only from a District Court to the High Court and not from a Magistrate’s Court to the High Court. He also considered O 89 r 11 of the Rules of Court 1996 which states that any application to the High Court for transfer of proceedings under the SCA must be made by originating summons and noted that this rule did not state specifically that a transfer from a subordinate court to the High Court was restricted to District Court proceedings. The fact that it referred to ss 24 and 38 of the SCA which deal with a transfer from the District Court to the High Court and to s 37 which deals with a transfer from the High Court to the District Court, however, was to the judge a reinforcement of the scheme that he had found in the SCA. Further, although the rule referred generally to the transfer of ‘any proceedings from the Subordinate Courts to the High Court’ the judge held that it had to be interpreted in a manner consistent with, and not contrary to, the scheme under the SCA.

The issues on appeal

9 In the Appellants’ Case, the purchasers frame the issues arising in the appeal as follows:

(1) whether the High Court has, under the provisions of the SCJA, the power to transfer proceedings commenced in the Magistrates' Courts to the High Court; and

(2) if the answer to issue (1) is in the affirmative, whether the provisions of the SCA limit that power conferred by the SCJA only to proceedings commenced in the District Courts.

Issue (1) – Are the High Court’s powers curtailed by the SCA?

10 The first issue is a reiteration of the argument made below that the power given to the High Court under the SCJA to transfer proceedings from any court to any other court could not be limited or curtailed by the provisions of the SCA. The second issue, however, is based on s 52 of the SCA and is to the effect that, by virtue of this provision, s 24 of the SCA is applicable to proceedings commenced in the Magistrates’ Courts as well as to those commenced in the District Courts. This is a new contention, not raised at first instance.

11 When it came to the hearing of the appeal, the purchasers did not pursue the first issue to its full extent. Instead, they appeared to accept that s 18(3) did exert some restraint on the exercise of the powers conferred on the High Court by s 18(2). They did not, however, accept that that provision allowed for these powers to be cut down by the provisions of the SCA. Instead, they contended that from a plain reading of s18(3) of the SCJA, all that it provides is for the powers in s18(2) and paragraph 10 of the First Schedule to be ‘exercised’ in accordance with ‘any written law or Rules of Court’. As the word ‘exercised’ means the manner in which the power is used, s18(3) must be referring to the procedure in ‘any written law or Rules of Court’. If that sub-section had been intended to allow the SCA to cut down the powers granted in s18(2) and the First Schedule of the SCJA, there would have been no necessity to have s18(3). The draftsman could have achieved this simply by having as the opening words of s18(2) the words, ‘Subject to any other written law or Rules of Court, the High Court shall have the powers set out in the First Schedule’.

12 In our view, this argument of the purchasers is a non-starter. It is not possible to infer from the use of the word ‘exercised’ that all that the phrase ‘written law’ refers to is procedural law. The phrase ‘written law’ is defined by the Interpretation Act (Cap 1) to mean, amongst other things, ‘all Acts, Ordinances and enactments by whatever name called and subsidiary legislation made thereunder for the time being in force in Singapore’. The provisions of the SCJA must be read in concert with the provisions of the Interpretation Act and, where the legislature has chosen to use in one statute a term which it has specifically defined in the Interpretation Act, then, unless the context clearly provides to the contrary, such term must be understood in accordance with its definition in the Interpretation Act. There is nothing in the context of s 18 of the SCJA which would justify limiting the meaning of ‘written law’ to only procedural law especially since there is a specific mention after ‘written law’ of the ‘Rules of Court’ which themselves deal with procedure. The phrase ‘written law’ must thus be intended to bear its full meaning and not any truncated meaning. The word ‘exercised’ is not sufficient to effect such a truncation.

13 As this Court noted in paragraph 10 of its judgment in Ricky Charles s/o Gabriel Thanabalan v Chua Boon Yeow (Civil Appeal 50 of 2002, unreported), which dealt with the interaction of s 18(3) of the SCJA and s 38 of the SCA, s 18(3) provides very clearly that the powers set out in the First Schedule of the SCJA are to be exercised in accordance with any written law relating to them and although paragraph 10 of the First Schedule gave the High Court very wide powers to transfer proceedings from the District...

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3 books & journal articles
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    • 1 de dezembro de 2003
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