Datuk Hamzah bin Mohd Noor v Tunku Ibrahim Ismail Ibni Sultan Iskandar Al-Haj

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Date27 September 2001
Docket NumberSuit No 792 of 2000

[2001] SGHC 281

High Court

MPH Rubin J

Suit No 792 of 2000

Datuk Hamzah bin Mohd Noor
Plaintiff
and
Tunku Ibrahim Ismail Ibni Sultan Iskandar Al-Haj
Defendant

Andre Arul (Arul, Chew & Partners) for the appellant/appellant

R Raj Singam and Gopinath Pillai (Drew & Napier LLC) for the respondent.

Brinkerhoff Maritime Drilling Corp v PT Airfast Services Indonesia [1992] 2 SLR (R) 345; [1992] 2 SLR 776 (refd)

Faridah Begum bte Abdullah v Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al Mustain Billah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Abu Bakar Ri'Ayatuddin Al Mu'Adzam Shah [1996] 1 MLJ 617 (refd)

Oriental Insurance Co Ltd v Bhavani Stores Pte Ltd [1997] 3 SLR (R) 363; [1998] 1 SLR 253 (folld)

Spiliada, The [1987] AC 460; [1986] 3 All ER 843 (folld)

Vishva Apurva, The [1992] 1 SLR (R) 912; [1992] 2 SLR 175 (folld)

Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed) First Schedule para 9

Conflict of Laws–Natural forum–Stay of proceedings–Relevant factors when considering whether court in foreign jurisdiction a more appropriate forum–Place where underlying transaction and cause of action arose–Location of witnesses–Residence of parties to the action–Agreements as to governing law and jurisdiction–Agreement unsigned–Whether backlog of cases in courts in foreign jurisdiction relevant–Whether relevant that one party is member of royal family in foreign jurisdiction–First Schedule para 9 Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed)

The appellant, a Malaysian resident, commenced proceedings against the respondent in the High Court of Singapore, alleging that the latter, who was the Crown Prince of Johor, had breached agreements to pay sums of moneys to him. A draft agreement was produced in court, which stated that the governing law was that of Malaysia, and that the parties agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of the Malaysian courts.

The essence of the appellant's claim was a promise allegedly made by the respondent to him while both were riding in a car from Singapore to the respondent's residence in Malaysia.

The respondent successfully applied to stay the proceedings on the ground that Malaysia was the more appropriate forum to litigate the dispute. The appellant appealed.

Held, dismissing the appeal:

(1) The court identified four aspects as being relevant to the case: (a) the place where the underlying transaction and cause of action arose; (b) the location of the witnesses who would testify; (c) the residence of the disputing parties; and (d) the law governing the dispute: at [29].

(2) In respect of the first aspect, the appellant's claim as regards the alleged promise was far from conclusive. The probabilities did not favour the conclusion that both intended at that stage to apply Singapore laws, or to subject themselves to the jurisdiction of the Singapore courts: at [30].

(3) In respect of the second and third aspects, the core evidence was to be adduced by both parties, who were resident in Malaysia. The other witnesses would not be too inconvenienced if the hearing was held there: at [31] and [35].

(4) In respect of the fourth aspect, the governing law and jurisdiction clause in the draft agreement showed the parties' intention that Malaysia was the appropriate forum, notwithstanding that it was unsigned. Further, whatever agreements entered into between the parties originated from the respondent's office in Malaysia: at [34] and [35].

(5) The appellant's apprehension that the respondent would have an overwhelming advantage over him, by virtue of his royal status, if the dispute was litigated in Malaysia was rejected as the legal and legislative framework in Malaysia allowed a citizen of Malaysia to bring proceedings against the rulers there. Further, his contention that the Malaysian courts had a backlog of cases did not justify favouring Singapore as the most appropriate forum: at [34].

MPH Rubin J

Introduction

1 In a writ filed in the High Court of the Republic of Singapore, the plaintiff Datuk Captain Hamzah bin Mohd Noor, apparently a much-decorated businessman, resident in Malaysia, claims against Tunku Ibrahim Ismail Ibni Sultan Iskandar Al-Haj, the Crown Prince of Johor, Malaysia, a sum well in excess of US$8m allegedly for services rendered, loans and advances made and amounts expended by the plaintiff for and at the request of the defendant. From the statement of claim filed, it would appear that whatever agreements reached between the plaintiff and the defendant were all verbal.

2 The defendant after entering appearance in this suit applied to the court to stay proceedings on grounds of forum non conveniens. This contention by him was that the appropriate forum to try the plaintiff's claim was either Malaysia or Indonesia and never Singapore. The defendant prevailed before the learned assistant registrar. The plaintiff's appeal and further arguments before me were not successful for the reasons which follow.

Tour d'horizon

3 Before I set out the reasons for my decision, it would, perhaps be useful to state briefly the background facts as can be gathered from the plaintiff's statement of claim and from the affidavits filed by parties in these proceedings.

4 The plaintiff is a former harbour master in the State of Johor. He got along famously with the Johor royal household, at least until recently. His services and friendship did not go unnoticed and due recognition was given to him when he was conferred Johor's third highest honour award of Setia Makhota Johor by His Royal Highness the Sultan of Johor on his birthday honour lists in 1984. When the Sultan of Johor became the King of Malaysia (“the Yang Dipertuan Agung”), the plaintiff was further honoured in 1987 by the King with Malaysia's First Class Honour Award of Panglima Setia Diraja, an award which entitled him to the title Datuk. He states his residential address as 2A Jalan SS3/2, Taman Sentosa, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.

5 The defendant is the eldest son of the Sultan of Johor and bears the royal title Tunku Mahkota Johor or TMJ. He is next in line and the heir to the throne of the State of Johor. He resides in a palace in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, known as the Istana Pasir Pelangi.

6 In the statement of claim, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant, besides being a prince, is also a businessman and an investor in various commercial ventures for gain and profit. He claims that he was the defendant's personally appointed and acknowledged representative in a number of commercial projects, ventures and investments in return for remuneration and payment of expenses to him. Quite a few projects were listed by him in this regard, chief amongst them was an oil and gas project in Indonesia which he calls the “Petrogas Project”. More shall be heard on this later.

7 The plaintiff's statement of claim is an extremely long and rambling 119- page (408 paragraphs) document. He sets out in it rather laboriously the various services rendered by him to the defendant from about September 1994; the promises made by the defendant and the sums disbursed by him for and at the request of the defendant. The breakdown of the plaintiff's claim is as follows:

  1. 1. The sum of US$805,000.00 being the salary or remuneration due from the Defendant to the Plaintiff for work done and services rendered by the Plaintiff to the Defendant pursuant to the contract for service between the Plaintiff and the Defendant at the rate of US$35,000.00 per month for 23 months from September 1994 to July 1996.

  2. 2. The sum of RM450,000.00 being the balance allowances due from the Defendant to the Plaintiff as agreed to by the Defendant and incorporated into the contract for service at the rate of RM10,000.00 per month for 45 months from January 1996 to September 1999.

  3. 3. The sum...

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