Ginsin Holdings Pte Ltd v Tan Mui Khoon trading as Chan Eng Soon Service and Another

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeJudith Prakash J
Judgment Date28 October 1996
Neutral Citation[1996] SGHC 245
Citation[1996] SGHC 245
Defendant CounselTan Cheng Yew (Tan Cheng Yew & Partners)
Plaintiff CounselGerald Chong (David Ong & Partners)
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberSuit No 185 of 1996
Date28 October 1996
Subject MatterDistress for rent,Whether such action possible under the Distress Act,Landlord and Tenant,Aggrieved tenant's recourse,ss 5 & 16 Distress Act (Cap 84),Action for damages for illegal distress

This decision involves an interesting point relating to the law of distress.

Sometime in 1995, the first defendant applied to the district court pursuant to s 5 of the Distress Act (Cap 84) (the Act) for leave to issue a writ of distress against certain goods belonging to the plaintiffs which were stored in the first defendant`s warehouse.
The first defendant was granted the leave he sought and the goods were subsequently seized pursuant to the writ of distress by the bailiff of the subordinate courts. The goods were sold at an auction held on 17 January 1996 for $45,000. According to the plaintiffs, they found out about the distress on the day of the auction itself.

Rather than applying under s 16 of the Act to discharge the writ of distress, on 30 January 1996, the plaintiffs commenced this action.
On an ex parte application made by them the same day, the following order was granted in their favour:

That the Bailiffs of the Subordinate Courts be directed to hold the proceeds from the auction sale held at No 8 Yung Ho Road, Singapore on 17 January 1996 in relation to the goods seized pursuant to the Writ of Distress No. 535 of 1995 or any part thereof until after the trial of this action or until further order or direction by this Honourable Court.

Although phrased in a positive manner, this order was in effect a restraining order in that it prevented the bailiff of the subordinate courts from releasing the proceeds of the auction of the goods to the first defendant.

The plaintiffs filed their statement of claim in this action on 27 February.
In it, they alleged that in 1993 pursuant to a memorandum of understanding (the MOU) they had rented warehouse space from the second defendant. In 1995, the second defendant had, without the knowledge of the plaintiffs, assigned his rights under the MOU to the first defendant. The plaintiffs continued, however, to deal with the second defendant only. Subsequently, the second defendant agreed that the amounts payable by the plaintiffs in respect of the warehouse space could be off-set against money that he had borrowed from them and the plaintiffs therefore stopped paying the storage charges. Thereafter the first defendant issued the writ of distress for unpaid storage charges and seized and auctioned the goods.

The plaintiffs` cause of action as originally formulated in their writ was for damages for breach of agreement and/or conversion.
However, their statement of claim amplified the endorsement by adding an alternative allegation that the writ of distress obtained by the first defendant was illegal or wrongful or improper in that it was obtained contrary to the Act and that the plaintiffs had thereby suffered loss and damages being, basically, the loss of the goods seized. This manner of formulation of the plaintiffs` claim made it clear that their cause of action against the first defendant was an action for damages for illegal distress.

On 15 May 1996, the first defendant applied for the order relating to the proceeds of the auction sale to be set aside.
The main submission made on behalf of the first defendant was that the pleadings did not disclose a cause of action against him on which the plaintiffs could rely and therefore there was no serious question to be tried. Accordingly, the injunction order should be discharged.

According to 13 Halsbury`s Laws of England (4th Ed) para 368, an illegal distress is one which is wrongful at the very outset, that is to say either there was no right to restrain or where a wrongful act was committed at the beginning of the levy invalidating all subsequent proceedings.
An excessive distress is one where the landlord has distrained for more than is actually due to him. Under common law, an action for damages lies for any wrongful distress whether it is illegal, irregular or excessive and the action lies at the suit of the tenant or the owner of the goods. See Halsbury paras 382 and 383. The significant difference, for present purposes, between common law distress and distress under the Act is that at common law, the landlord may distrain either in person or by an authorised agent or bailiff. See Halsbury para 291. No legal proceeding is involved. Under the Act, however, a writ of distress has to be issued by court order and it is the court bailiff who distrains the tenant`s chattels pursuant to the writ.

The local law on distress for rent has been codified and was based initially on provisions existing in India ie the Indian Act XXXIX of 1866 which was made applicable in the Straits Settlements by Ordinance V of 1874.
In 1875, the Indian legislature consolidated the law of distress in Act No 1 of 1875 and this was adopted in the Straits Settlements by Ordinance XIV of 1876 (the Ordinance). The recital to the Ordinance stated that it was an Ordinance to consolidate and amend the law of distresses for rent. By s 2 of the Ordinance, it was provided that no distress should be levied for rent by any person except under the provisions of the Ordinance and the sanctions of fine and imprisonment...

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9 cases
  • Challenger Technologies v Dennison Transoceanic Corporation
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 30 July 1997
    ...... 1990, Dennison Manufacturing merged with another American company, Avery International Corporation ... 21 May 1993, Challenger`s solicitors, Chu Chan Gan & Ooi (CCGO), wrote to R & D to demand the .... . . . In Ginsin Holdings Pte Ltd v Tan Mui Khoon t/a Chan Eng n Service & Anor [1997] 1 SLR 553 , Judith Prakash J ......
  • South East Enterprises (Singapore) Pte Ltd v Hean Nerng Holdings Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 15 March 2013
    ...(1806) 6 Esp 71; 170 ER 833 (folld) Gawler v Chaplin (1848) 2 Exch 503; 154 ER 590 (folld) Ginsin Holdings Pte Ltd v Tan Mui Khoon [1996] 3 SLR (R) 500; [1997] 1 SLR 553 (folld) Heng Chyu Kee v Far East Square Pte Ltd [2001] 3 SLR (R) 651; [2002] 1 SLR 158 (refd) Hewitt v Spiers and Pond (L......
  • Heng Chyu Kee v Far East Square Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 20 November 2001
    ...[1929] 2 KB 222 (refd) Dovey Enterprises v Guardian Assurance Public [1993] 1 NZLR 540 (refd) Ginsin Holdings Pte Ltd v Tan Mui Khoon [1996] 3 SLR (R) 500; [1997] 1 SLR 553 (folld) Metro Mechanical Ltd v Neil Day Motors Ltd [1995] DCR 232 (refd) South Union Co Ltd v Seng Hin Ltd [1971-1973]......
  • Comfort Management Pte Ltd v Afco East Pte Ltd and others
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 29 June 2012 an action for malicious prosecution. I discussed Chop Chye Hin Chong in Ginsin Holdings v Tan Mui Khoon t/a Chan Eng Soon Service [1996] 3 SLR(R) 500 (“Ginsin Holdings”). In Ginsin Holdings, I held that there is no common law action for wrongful or illegal distress of goods in Singapore ......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Tort Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2012, December 2012
    • 1 December 2012
    ...for malicious prosecution (see Chop Chye Hin Chong v Ng Yeok Seng[1934] 1 MLJ 265 at 266; Ginsin Holdings Pte Ltd v Tan Mui Khoon[1996] 3 SLR(R) 500 at [14]; Heng Chyu Kee v Far East Square Pte Ltd[2001] 3 SLR(R) 651 at [16]). The case authorities relate to malicious prosecution arising fro......
  • Land Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2012, December 2012
    • 1 December 2012
    ...was no common law action for wrongful or illegal distress of goods in Singapore. Relying on Ginsin Holdings Pte Ltd v Tan Mui Khoon[1996] 3 SLR(R) 500, the court took the view that the law of distress has been embodied in legislation establishing a judicial process and the common law remedy......

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