Goh Yong Hng v Cheong Yen Teng (Zheng Yanping) (m.w.) and Another

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeJudith Prakash J
Judgment Date14 April 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] SGHC 89
Docket NumberDivorce Petition No 602501 of 2002
Date14 April 2003
Year2003
Published date07 October 2003
Plaintiff CounselIrving Choh (CTLC Law Corporation)
Citation[2003] SGHC 89
Defendant CounselAngela Lee (Jansen, Menon & Lee)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterWhether costs incurred by private investigators reasonable,Family Law,Costs against co-respondent,Wife willing party to adultery,Grounds for divorce,Proportion of costs of private investigators payable by co-respondent,Adultery

1 This is an appeal by the petitioner (the husband) who is seeking an order that the co-respondent be made to pay him a sum of $8,780 in reimbursement of the costs which the husband incurred in employing a firm of private investigators. In the District Court, the co-respondent was ordered to pay the husband only 25% of those costs.

Background

2 The husband filed the petition in these proceedings on 1 July 2002. He sought a divorce on the ground that his marriage with the respondent wife had broken irretrievably in that she had committed adultery with the co-respondent and he found it intolerable to live with her. Particulars of the alleged adultery were given. The first was that the wife and the co-respondent had committed adultery on 9 May 2002 in a flat in Bishan. The second particular was that on 15 May 2002, the co-respondent had impliedly admitted committing adultery with the wife in that he had volunteered to pay all the fees of the investigators.

3 Apart from asking for the dissolution of the marriage and the usual ancillary orders regarding property and children, the husband prayed that the co-respondent be ordered to pay the costs of the divorce proceedings and all costs incurred by him in obtaining the private investigator’s report. This latter prayer was amended subsequently to ask for such costs to be paid by the wife and/or the co-respondent.

4 The petition was heard on 24 September 2002. Neither the wife nor the co-respondent contested it. Oral evidence was given by the husband and one Mr Philip Tan, the chief investigator of the firm of private investigators employed by the husband. The ancillary matters, including the issues as to costs, were adjourned to chambers.

5 For the purposes of the ancillary hearing, both the husband and the co-respondent filed affidavits. From these affidavits it appeared that the husband, the wife and the co-respondent had first met each other in January 2002. Subsequently, the affair had started. The husband had instructed Mr Philip Tan’s firm on 8 May 2002 and operatives from the firm had kept surveillance on the wife and co-respondent on 9, 10 and 13 May. Subsequently, a meeting of the three parties at which Mr Tan was also present had taken place. At the time of the alleged adultery on 9 May, the husband and wife were still cohabiting and the husband asserted that he believed the wife was happy in the marriage. The co-respondent, however, asserted that the wife had expressed unhappiness to him. He further averred that the parties’ marriage had broken down before the affair had started. He vigorously contested the husband’s application that he be made to bear the costs of the proceedings and the costs of the private investigation.

The decision below

6 The district judge made the following orders:

(a) that the co-respondent pay to the husband the sum of $2,195 being 25% of the private investigator’s costs;

(b) that the co-respondent bear 50% of the costs of the divorce proceedings fixed at $1,500 ie the co-respondent was to pay $750; and

(c) that in respect of the issue as to the co-respondent’s liability for costs, the co-respondent pay the husband costs of the same fixed at $400.

The husband appealed against the first of those orders. He wanted the co-respondent to pay all of the investigation costs.

7 In her judgment, the district judge noted that as the co-respondent did not defend the allegations in the divorce petition, he was deemed to have admitted that he had committed adultery with the wife. The husband would not have been put to the expense of engaging a private investigator to gather the necessary evidence, but for the co-respondent’s act of adultery. In granting the decree nisi, the court was satisfied that the husband had sufficiently proved the contents of his petition and in accordance with the principle that costs followed the event the co-respondent was prima facie liable, at least in part, for the costs of the private investigator.

8 The judge noted that the law relevant to the application was as set out in Halsbury’s Laws of England (4th Ed) para 970 which states:

A co-respondent, against whom adultery is established, may be ordered to pay the whole or any part of the costs of the proceedings, but in exercising its discretion as to the costs which a co-respondent may be ordered to pay, the court may have to consider whether in fact the co-respondent was responsible either for the breakdown of the marriage or for the litigation.

She rejected the argument put forward by the co-respondent that the marriage had broken down before the adultery and therefore that he should bear no responsibility for its breakdown. Further, she distinguished the case of Tan Kay Poh v Tan Surida & Anor [1988] SLR 983 where Chao Hick Tin JC had refused to make an order for costs against the co-respondent. In that case it was clear that the wife had left the matrimonial home due to unhappiness with the husband before her adulterous relationship with the co-respondent started. In this case, the husband had asserted that the marriage was happy and the co-respondent’s assertions to the contrary were uncorroborated. The parties were still living together at the time of the adultery and nothing much turned on the fact that the wife had not contested the divorce petition – it might simply have been because she had no defence to it.

9 The judge therefore found that in principle there was no reason not to make an order that the co-respondent pay costs to the husband. She then considered the issue of quantum. The husband was claiming the fees charged for surveillance, the issue of two investigation reports and the investigator’s attendance in court. These totalled $8,780. The judge directed herself that in determining whether the co-respondent should be made to pay that full sum, the fees claimed must necessarily be subject to the test of reasonableness. She cited O 59 r 27(2) of the Rules of Court which applies to matrimonial proceedings by virtue of r 2 of the Matrimonial Proceedings Rules and states ‘that there shall be allowed a reasonable amount in respect of all costs reasonably incurred’. She then posed the question whether the fees of $8,780 were reasonable in amount.

10 The judge then held that it appeared from the evidence that the private investigators had gathered the necessary evidence of adultery on 9 May, the day after they were instructed. They had, however, continued to conduct surveillance on Friday, 10 May and Monday, 13 May. In her view, the work undertaken on these two days was not really necessary since the relevant evidence had already been obtained by 9 May. Mr Philip Tan had also attended the meeting of the parties held on 15 May. He was instructed to record the meeting on video but the judge was doubtful as to whether the video recording was in fact made as there was no reference to it in either the PI report or the husband’s affidavit. As for Mr Tan’s...

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2 cases
  • BNH v BNI
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • Invalid date
    ...of these costs incurred by the Wife. As Judith Prakash J held in Goh Yong Hng v Cheong Yen Teng (Zheng Yanping) (mw) and another [2003] 2 SLR(R) 530 at [18], this inquiry is whether the length of surveillance and the costs charged for surveillance were reasonable: As regards quantum, the ma......
  • UFU (M.W.) v UFV
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 25 September 2017
    ...in order to prove adultery, subject to the fees being reasonable: see Goh Yong Hng v Cheong Yen Teng (Zheng Yanping) (mw) and another [2003] 2 SLR(R) 530). Where there is cause to be sceptical about the need for PI surveillance, there is an even greater imperative for the funds to be added ......
1 books & journal articles
  • Family Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2003, December 2003
    • 1 December 2003
    ...held that the application was not premature. Costs: liability of co-respondent in adultery cases 13.60 In Goh Yong Hng v Cheong Yen Teng[2003] 2 SLR 530, the husband petitioned for divorce on the basis of the wife”s adultery with the co-respondent. The subordinate court ordered the co-respo......

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