JWR Pte Ltd v Syn Kok Kay (trading as Patrick Chin Syn & Co)

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeTan Siong Thye J
Judgment Date24 October 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] SGHC 253
Citation[2019] SGHC 253
Published date31 October 2019
Hearing Date26 September 2019
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 989 of 2019
Plaintiff CounselChong Siew Nyuk Josephine and Navin Kangatharan (Josephine Chong LLC)
Defendant CounselJoseph Tan (Nanyang Law LLC) and Syn Kok Kay (Patrick Chin Syn & Co)
Subject MatterLegal Profession,Bill of costs
Tan Siong Thye J:

The applicant in Originating Summons No 989 of 2019 (“OS 989/2019”) seeks an order to tax 35 invoices (“the Invoices”) as bills of costs under s 122 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“LPA”). The total amount of the Invoices is $1,514,089.80. These were issued by the respondent who was the applicant’s previous solicitor, through M/s Patrick Chin Syn & Co (“the Firm”). The applicant has also requested an order requiring the respondent to deliver certain documents to it.


The applicant is a company incorporated in Singapore. Its Managing Director is Chen Walter Roland (“Chen”), a retired surgeon.

The respondent is a practising solicitor who is the sole proprietor of the Firm.

The applicant was the plaintiff in Suit No 896 of 2012 and was represented by Edmond Pereira (“Mr Pereira”) of Edmond Pereira Law Corporation (“EPLC”). That suit was struck out.

The applicant was dissatisfied with the services of Mr Pereira and it brought Suit No 992 of 2015 (“S 992/2015”) against Mr Pereira and EPLC for professional negligence. Its claim was for $8.9bn, revised from the original figure of $3.9bn.1 The applicant engaged the respondent to act for it and the respondent took over the matter on 14 December 2015. S 992/2015 went on trial and was heard over three days in March 2019 and was dismissed on 28 May 2019. The applicant has since appealed against the decision in S 992/2015. The respondent is not acting for the applicant in the appeal.

The respondent issued Invoices 1 to 34 in the table below for acting for the applicant in S 992/2015. Invoice 35 was issued on 13 June 2019 for the sum of $150,000. This was an interim payment for work relating to the appeal of the decision in S 992/2015. This was not paid by the applicant. The details of the Invoices are as follows:

S/N Invoice number Date Amount Paid?
1 *PCS/1660/2015 10/12/2015 $15,000.00 Yes
2 PCS/1671/2016 01/02/2016 $10,000.00 Yes
3 PCS/1688/2016 15/04/2016 $10,000.00 Yes
4 PCS/1707/2016 13/06/2016 $25,000.00 Yes
5 PCS/1727/2016 12/08/2016 $20,000.00 Yes
6 PCS/1757/2016 03/10/2016 $25,000.00 Yes
7 PCS/1767/2016 29/11/2016 $20,000.00 Yes
8 *PCS/1773/2017 17/01/2017 $25,000.00 Yes
9 PCS/1777/2017 09/02/2017 $25,000.00 Yes
10 *PCS/1790/2017 24/03/2017 $25,000.00 Yes
11 PCS/1792/2017 07/04/2017 $25,000.00 Yes
12 PCS/1795/2017 08/05/2017 $30,000.00 Yes
13 PCS/1800/2017 09/06/2017 $30,000.00 Yes
14 PCS/1807/2017 26/07/2017 $40,000.00 Yes
15 PCS/1820/2017 21/09/2017 $40,000.00 Yes
16 PCS/1824/2017 07/11/2017 $30,000.00 Yes
17 PCS/1828/2017 17/11/2017 $40,000.00 Yes
18 PCS/1837/2018 11/01/2018 $20,000.00 Yes
19 PCS/1848/2018 05/02/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
20 PCS/1855/2018 12/03/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
21 PCS/1869/2018 13/04/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
22 PCS/1873/2018 10/05/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
23 PCS/1887/2018 04/06/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
24 PCS/1892/2018 09/07/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
25 PCS/1896/2018 02/08/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
26 PCS/1906/2018 30/08/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
27 ^PCS/1914/2018 October 2018 $30,000.00 Yes
28 *PCS/1917/2018 26/10/2018 $30,000.00 Yes
29 PCS/19120/2018 09/11/2018 $50,000.00 Yes
30 PCS/1925/2018 07/12/2018 $50,000.00 Yes
31 PCS/1931/2019 09/01/2019 $50,000.00 Yes
32 PCS/1941/2019 07/02/2019 $395,000.00 Yes
33 PCS/1946/2019 07/02/2019 $42,407.80 Yes
34 PCS/1950/2019 29/04/2019 $21,682.00 Yes
35 PCS/1954/2019 13/06/2019 $150,000.00 No
Total $1,514,089.80 -

Most of the Invoices, except Invoices 1, 8, 10, 27 and 28 (marked with an asterisk or a caret), are only a page with the letterhead of the Firm, followed by a file reference number, date, bill number, and “To” field. The body of the Invoices takes the following standard form:2

The Invoices are for the respondent’s professional services and these were not itemised except Invoices 33 and 34,3 which contained professional fees (not itemised) of $30,000 and $10,000 respectively, and itemised disbursements of $12,407.80 and $11,682 respectively. At the bottom of each of the Invoices there was a standard “IMPORTANT NOTES” section, Note 2 of which states “This is a short form bill and our rights are reserved to render to a revised full form bill or account if required”.

The applicant did not produce a copy of the Invoices marked with an asterisk. Instead, it tendered unnumbered official receipts from the Firm. These have the Firm’s letterhead, a file reference number, the date, the words “Re HC/S 992/2015”, and the words “Received from [the Firm] the sum of [amount] being payment of [bill number]”, followed by the amount in figures, a cheque number and the Firm’s seal. Nor did the applicant produce a copy of Invoice 27, marked with a caret. It tendered a cheque stub for the sum of $30,000 matching that invoice number.4

The parties’ cases The applicant’s case

The applicant only seeks orders for taxation for Invoices 1 to 34. It is not pursuing Invoice 35 as the respondent has confirmed, through written submissions and again at the hearing, that he is not claiming Invoice 35 (which is an interim fee of $150,000 for the appeal against the decision in S 992/2015 and has not been paid by the applicant) as he no longer acts for the applicant.5

The applicant’s arguments are twofold. Firstly, Invoices 1 to 34 are not proper bills of costs within the meaning of s 122 of the LPA and so the two disqualifying events to an order for taxation in s 122 (ie, that the bills were paid or that 12 months had lapsed from the date of the invoices) do not apply. It relies on the case of H&C S Holdings Pte Ltd v Gabriel Law Corp [2018] SGHC 168 (“H&C S Holdings”) for the proposition that in order to constitute a proper bill of costs, the bill must have enough information on its face to enable the client to decide if he should obtain advice on whether to proceed to taxation. The lack of information in Invoices 1 to 34 prevented Chen from deciding whether the fees charged by the respondent are reasonable. The applicant had twice requested itemised bills from the respondent without success.6

Secondly, even if Invoices 1 to 34 are proper bills of costs, there are special circumstances under s 122 of the LPA that justify the making of an order for taxation.7 The applicant relies on the lack of itemisation in these Invoices and alleged overcharging by the respondent.8

On this basis, the applicant seeks the following reliefs: a declaration that Invoices 1 to 34 are not proper “bills of costs” within the meaning of s 122 of the LPA such that the two disqualifying events to an order for taxation in s 122 do not apply to Invoices 1 to 34; an order for the respondent to deliver, within 14 days of the making of the order, a bill of costs for taxation covering work done under Invoices 1 to 34; and an order for taxation of all bills of costs.

In prayer 5 of OS 989/2019, the applicant also seeks an order that the respondent deliver certain documents pertaining to S 992/2015 (“the Documents”) within 14 days, subject to any lien the respondent may have: all correspondence relating to S 992/2015; the defendant’s three bundles of documents in S 992/2015; the defendant’s document marked “D1” in S 992/2015, being the alleged last page of the handwritten attendance note of 8 October 2012; all certified transcripts, notes of evidence, grounds of decision, or notes of arguments in the respondent’s possession; and softcopy trial transcripts for S 992/2015, by way of CD-Rom.

The respondent’s case

The respondent’s contention is that Invoices 1 to 34 are proper bills of costs. He relies on the presumption in s 118(3) of the LPA that a bill delivered in compliance with s 118(1) of the LPA shall be presumed until the contrary is shown to be a bill bona fide complying with the LPA.

The respondent also contends that there are no special circumstances under s 122 of the LPA to refer the bills of costs for taxation. The total bills for about $1.36m (excluding Invoice 35) were reasonable considering that the respondent had handled the matter for 3.5 years and the claim amount was $8.9bn. Further, the respondent alleges that the applicant: was aware that the respondent would not be rendering itemised bills and that the bills were for progress payments of S 992/2015; knew the amount that the respondent had billed it; had paid Invoices 1 to 34 promptly without reservation; and was prepared to pay the respondent $2m if the appeal was successful.9

Regarding the last point, the respondent tendered a letter from Chen to him, dated 20 June 2019, which provided as follows:10

Dear Mr Syn,

Your opinion is that the case was made out and the Defendants are negligent, therefore liable How confident are you of wining [sic] the Appeal ?

Please confirm your proposed Professional Fees for the Appeal is fixed at $350,000, plus disbursements of several thousand dollars … and that the professional fees of $350,000 will not increase any further. We wish to explore another alternative arrangement for the professional fees for the appeal, namely a NO WIN – NO FEE arrangement excluding disbursements which would be reimbursed to you ...

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2 cases
  • Lin Jianwei v Tung Yu-Lien Margaret and another and another matter
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 27 July 2020
    ...I have dealt with this legal issue comprehensively in my recent decision in JWR Pte Ltd v Syn Kok Kay (trading as Patrick Chin Syn & Co) [2019] SGHC 253 at [37]–[40]: 37 … [A]n order of taxation will only be made if the applicant is able to prove the existence of special circumstances: Spor......
  • Koh Kim Teck v Shook Lin & Bok LLP
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 10 December 2020
    ...Cheng Lay v Low Yong Sen [2009] 3 SLR(R) 20656 (“Ho Cheng Lay”) at [16] and JWR Pte Ltd v Syn Kok Kay (trading as Patrick Chin Syn & Co) [2019] SGHC 253 at [23]. In Kosui, Coomaraswamy J further observed that taxation is the only judicial process designed specifically to assess and fix the ......

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