Rahman Mohammad Jillour v Paretam Singh s/o Kishen Singh (alias Pritam Singh Gill)

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeAedit Abdullah J
Judgment Date10 February 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] SGHC 30
Citation[2021] SGHC 30
Hearing Date16 September 2020,07 August 2020,09 October 2020
Published date17 February 2021
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 295 of 2020
Plaintiff CounselManickam Kasturibai and Jocinda Wong Jia Heng (East Asia Law Corporation)
Defendant CounselLiew Teck Huat, Achala Krishna Menon, Ho Jun Yang Joshua (He Junyang) and Kanapathi Pillai Nirumalan (Niru & Co LLC)
Subject MatterLegal Profession,Bill of costs,Account
Aedit Abdullah J: Introduction

The plaintiff sought a statement of accounts regarding settlement moneys from the defendant, his former solicitor.1 As the defendant had already given his version of what the settlement money was used for, and the plaintiff’s complaint was really about (a) what actually transpired between him and the solicitor, as well as (b) what was charged by the solicitor, I declined to grant his application. There were indeed aspects of his case that, if his allegations were true, would be of concern. However, his remedy lay properly through some other mechanisms and not what was put forth on his behalf in the present application. The plaintiff has appealed against my decision.

Background

The plaintiff suffered serious injuries to his legs and body in a worksite accident in September 2015.2 In October 2015, he instructed the defendant to claim damages against those responsible.3 A settlement was eventually reached in 2017 with the insurers for those responsible, involving a sum of S$204,674 (“Settlement Sum”) given as full and final settlement of the plaintiff’s claim.4 That sum included damages (inclusive of interests), costs and disbursements.5 A cheque for the Settlement Sum was issued in favour of the defendant’s firm and the Settlement Sum was subsequently deposited into the firm’s client account.6

The circumstances of the use of that Settlement Sum were contested between the plaintiff and the defendant.7 What was uncontested was that a cheque was drawn on the firm’s client account, and the plaintiff was accompanied to a bank to encash it.8

Summary of the plaintiff’s version of events

The plaintiff’s version was that he would be paid S$170,000 in two tranches: S$100,000 when he arrived in Singapore in 2017, and a further sum of S$70,000 after he returned to Bangladesh.9 In September 2017, when the plaintiff came to Singapore to collect the money, he met with the defendant’s wife at a bank. 10 He was instructed by the defendant’s wife to sign on the back of a cheque made out for the Settlement Sum in favour of the plaintiff.11 After cashing the cheque for the Settlement Sum, he was given S$100,000 in cash.12 Thereafter, the defendant’s wife, and two male persons, escorted the plaintiff to the defendant’s office,13 where he was instructed by the defendant’s employee to sign a few documents.14 The contents of the documents signed by the plaintiff were not explained to him, and the plaintiff was not provided with copies of the signed documents.15 He was then given a ticket to return to Bangladesh that very day, even though he had previously informed the defendant that he wanted to stay in Singapore for a few days to arrange for the remittal of the money.16 He was escorted by the two male persons to the airport, where he took a flight back to Bangladesh.17 Back in Bangladesh, the plaintiff did not receive the promised S$70,000 even after two years.18

In 2019, the plaintiff returned to Singapore from Bangladesh.19 Accompanied by a friend, the plaintiff met with the defendant at the latter’s firm to ask about the S$70,000.20 Various documents were shown to the plaintiff, including the defendant’s invoice no. 2088/17.21 Invoice no. 2088/17 indicated that the total amount due from the plaintiff was S$68,674 (“Invoice Amount”).22 The plaintiff claimed that this invoice, which indicated that legal costs amount to S$58,624,23 differed from the costs of S$30,000 he was informed of in June 2017.24 There was also an increase in the disbursements: from S$4,674 to S$10,050.25 The plaintiff alleged that he had not been informed of the increase in legal costs and disbursements until his newly instructed solicitors requested for all the relevant documents from the defendant.26 In any event, even with these increased amounts, there was still a sum of S$36,000 which ought to be remitted to him.27 Via a letter to the defendant dated 10 December 2019, the plaintiff sought documentary evidence of the sum paid to him and the basis for charging the increase in legal costs and disbursements.28

As the defendant did not respond to the plaintiff’s letter dated 10 December 2019, the plaintiff commenced the current proceedings seeking a statement of accounts as regards the Settlement Sum, payment of the balance sum, and other equitable remedies to ensure the release of the balance sum.29

Summary of the defendant’s version of events

The defendant’s version of events differed from the plaintiff’s. Out of the Settlement Sum, S$170,000 was damages, and S$34,674 was party and party costs and disbursements.30 The defendant also told the plaintiff that the defendant’s costs and disbursements, including advances that the defendant’s firm had made to him, would be taken from the Settlement Sum.31 The defendant’s costs, disbursements and advances added up to the Invoice Amount of S$68,674.32 When the plaintiff came to Singapore in September 2017, the defendant explained the breakdown of the Invoice Amount to him along with the relevant documents.33 The plaintiff said that he understood the defendant’s explanation and agreed to the payment of the Invoice Amount.34 Thereafter, accompanied by one of the defendant’s staff, the defendant’s wife brought the plaintiff to the bank,35 where the plaintiff encashed the cheque for the Settlement Sum and transferred the Invoice Amount to the defendant’s office account.36 The balance was kept by the plaintiff.37 It was only two years later that the plaintiff started to dispute what had occurred.38

In November 2019, the plaintiff, along with a friend of his, met the defendant who again explained the documents and charges.39 The plaintiff and his friend appeared satisfied on this occasion.40 Subsequently, the plaintiff contacted the defendant’s office again to arrange for another meeting.41 This time, the defendant’s brother and one of the defendant’s staff met with the plaintiff,42 but nothing came out of this meeting.43

The plaintiff’s case

The plaintiff sought a statement of accounts as regards the Settlement Sum, payment of the balance sum, and equitable remedies to ensure the release of the balance sum.44

In summary, the plaintiff argued that the defendant owed the giving of accounts, invoking s 80 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“LPA”) and rule 16 of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015 (S 706/2015) (“PCR”).45 It was argued that there remained issues which were doubtful, and which should be clarified by the defendant.46

The plaintiff contended that there had been no response to his letter dated 10 December 2019, in which he had sought relevant documents from the defendant.47 It was further argued that there were still shortcomings in what was alleged by the defendant, including not deducting costs directly but issuing a cheque for the Settlement Sum, and then obtaining the S$68,674 from the plaintiff after that cheque was encashed.48 Other circumstances of the encashment were also put in issue,49 as was the breakdown for the various items for which costs and disbursements were sought.50 In addition, there was a sum of S$36,000 that was still outstanding.51 A proper account of the Settlement Sum was thus sought.52

The plaintiff maintained that taxation was not suitable, as the main complaint was that he was to be paid S$70,000 which he was still owed.53 No taxation was in fact carried out by the defendant, despite having undertaken to have his bills taxed, and no explanation was given for this failure.54

It was stated that there was inadequate protection of foreign workers, and that the present application had to be filed due to the defendant’s failure to respond and provide information.55

The further reliefs sought were payment of the balance settlement amount and other equitable remedies to ensure the release of the balance sum.56

The defendant’s case

The defendant asserted that he had been properly instructed to accept the settlement offer.57 The defendant also alleged that he had explained to the plaintiff that the plaintiff would need to pay the defendant’s costs and disbursements, including advances that had been made to the plaintiff.58 The solicitor and client costs and disbursements amounted to S$68,674.59 When the plaintiff arrived in Singapore to collect the sum payable to him, a cheque was issued from the client account of the defendant’s firm for S$204,674.60 An invoice for S$68,674 was also rendered as well as a client’s accounts voucher.61 The cheque was encashed by the plaintiff,62 who also instructed the bank to transfer the Invoice Amount to the defendant’s office account.63 The plaintiff counted his cash balance at the office of the plaintiff’s firm before leaving.64

It was only after two years that the plaintiff claimed he had been told that the settlement amount was actually S$400,000.65 After an explanation was given, the plaintiff and a friend of his confirmed that everything was in order.66

The defendant argued that the present application was unmeritorious.67 English cases on r 67.2 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (SI 1998 No 3132) (UK), a provision in pari materia with s 80 of the LPA,68 show that ordering an account is a matter of discretion which the court will not exercise if information had already been provided:69Norman Allen v Brethertons LLP [2018] EWHC B15 (Costs); Jonathan Whale v Mooney Everett Solicitors Ltd [2018] EWHC B10 (Costs); Vivek Ratan v Carter-Ruck Solicitors (20 May 2019, High Court of Justice Senior Courts Costs Office) (United Kingdom).70 Here, the defendant had produced the documents on three separate occasions.71 The constant requests amounted to oppression and harassment.72 The defendant drew a parallel with the rendering of an account by trustees, whereby an account will be refused if it amounts to oppression:73Foo Jee Boo and another v Foo Jhee Tuang and others [2016] SGHC 260 and Lakshmi Prataprai Bhojwani (alias Mrs Lakshmi Jethanand...

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