Paul Patrick Baragwanath and another v Republic of Singapore Yacht Club

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeChoo Han Teck J
Judgment Date15 December 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGHC 317
Citation[2015] SGHC 317
Published date17 December 2015
Docket NumberDistrict Suit No 1666 of 2014 (RAS 24 of 2015)
Subject MatterTrespass,Land,Assessment,Tort,Damages
Hearing Date09 November 2015
Plaintiff CounselSiraj Omar and Alexander Lee (Premier Law LLC)
Defendant CounselWee Chow Sing Patrick (Patrick Wee & Partners)
Choo Han Teck J:

This is an appeal against the quantification of damages arising from the second appellant’s (Underwater Shipcare (Pte) Ltd) vessel’s (“the Vessel”) trespass into a marina. On 15 April 2014, the Vessel sailed into a marina belonging to the respondent, Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, to refuel. The first appellant, Mr Paul Patrick Baragwanath, is the managing director and major shareholder of the second appellant. He is also a member of the respondent club. Despite the respondent’s objections and numerous requests asking the first appellant to move the Vessel out of the marina, the Vessel continued to be moored at the marina for the next 123 days. The respondent commenced an action in trespass against the appellants in the district court on 3 June 2014 and applied for summary judgment on 16 July 2014. The Vessel finally left on 15 August 2014.

Before the learned district judge, the respondent sought the following reliefs: damages for trespass; a declaration that the appellants were not entitled to berth the Vessel in the marina; an order for the Vessel to be removed; and an injunction against the appellants for the use of the berths of the marina to moor the Vessel, or any other vessel, without the permission of the respondent.

The district judge awarded a sum of $51,870.38 as damages for the trespass of the Vessel onto the respondent’s property as well as costs of $5,000, inclusive of disbursements, in the respondent’s favour. He dismissed the respondent’s prayer for an injunction and made no order on the two remaining prayers. The district judge’s grounds of decision can be found in Republic of Singapore Yacht Club v Paul Patrick Baragwanath and another [2015] SGDC 268. On 31 August 2015, the appellants filed an appeal against the district judge’s decision in respect of the quantum of damages and the costs that were awarded. The respondent did not appeal against the decision.

Counsel for the respondent, Mr Patrick Wee (“Mr Wee”), argues that pursuant to s 21(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev Ed) (“the SCJA”), the appellants require leave to commence an appeal given that the amount in dispute is less than $50,000. Section 21(1) of the SCJA reads as follows:

Appeals from District and Magistrates’ Courts

21. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Act or any other written law, an appeal shall lie to the High Court from a decision of a District Court or a Magistrate’s Court – in any case where the amount in dispute, or the value of the subject-matter, at the hearing before that District Court or Magistrate’s Court (excluding interest and costs) exceeds $50,000 or such other amount as may be specified by an order made under subsection (3); or with the leave of that District Court or Magistrate’s Court or the High Court, in any other case.

Mr Wee contends that the “amount in dispute” in the present case is only $41,786.18, which is the difference between the sums submitted by the appellants (ie, $47,820.98) and the respondent (ie, $6,034.80) before the district judge on the damages that the appellants ought to pay for the trespass. Mr Wee submits that leave to appeal was therefore necessary pursuant to s 21(1)(a) of the SCJA.

Section 21(1) of the SCJA restricts the circumstances in which a party has an automatic right of appeal from a District Court or Magistrate’s Court to the High Court. This is even though an appeal from the District Court or Magistrate’s Court to the High Court is an appeal from the hearing at first instance. At the second reading of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill, Prof S Jayakumar, the then Minister of Law, explained that the presence of a monetary threshold under s 21(1) of the SCJA was to act as “a screening mechanism to sieve out non-serious and unmeritorious appeals” (see Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (26 November 1998) vol 69 at cols 1629 - 1630). For cases falling below the monetary limit, appeals may still be brought albeit leave of court must first be obtained. The threshold for appeals to the High Court was increased from $5,000 to $50,000 by amendments in 1998.

It is not readily apparent whether the phrase “amount in dispute” refers to the amount that was claimed in the lower court, or the difference in the sum claimed and the award that was given by the lower court, or the difference in the amounts submitted by the parties in the lower court. Prior to the amendments made to the section in 2010 where, inter alia, the words “at the hearing before the District Court or Magistrate’s Court” were added, some cases (eg, Augustine Zacharia Norman v Goh Siam Yong [1992] 1 SLR(R) 746), had taken the position that the “amount in dispute” referred to the difference between the sum awarded by the lower court and the sum that the appellant was contending for on appeal. Although the phrase “amount in dispute” was once open to these various interpretations, its meaning was settled after amendments to the sub-section in 2010 and the Court of Appeal’s decision in Fong Khim Ling (administrator of the estate of Fong Ching Pau Lloyd, deceased) v Tan Teck Ann [2014] 2 SLR 659 (“Fong Khim Ling”).

At [21] of Fong Khim Ling, the Court of Appeal cited the second reading of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Amendment) Bill 2010. In the passage that was cited, Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee, the then Senior Minister of State for Law, explained that the 2010 amendments to the section made it clear that the computation of the monetary threshold does not include interest or costs order by the lower court. Further, the amendments put it “beyond doubt that the respective monetary thresholds of the High Court [under s 21(1) of the SCJA] and Court of Appeal [under s 34(2)(a) of the SCJA] is computed by reference to the original amount claimed in the lower court and not the judgment sum awarded by the court, or the amount in dispute on appeal” (see Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (18 October 2010) vol 87 at col 1317). The Court of Appeal...

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