Singapore Rifle Association v Singapore Shooting Association and others

JudgePang Khang Chau JC
Judgment Date24 January 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] SGHC 13
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberSuit No 459 of 2016
Published date29 January 2019
Hearing Date24 January 2018,07 February 2018,02 February 2018,31 January 2018,23 January 2018,30 January 2018,26 January 2018,07 May 2018,01 February 2018,25 January 2018,06 April 2018
Plaintiff CounselWong Hin Pkin Wendell, Teo Ying Ying Denise and Tan Si Ying Evelyn (Drew & Napier LLC)
Defendant CounselLee Hwee Khiam Anthony and Huineng Clement Chen (Bih Li & Lee LLP)
Subject MatterContract,Breach,Indemnity clauses,Tort,Conspiracy,Unincorporated Associations and Trade Unions,Friendly societies,Management
Citation[2019] SGHC 13
Pang Khang Chau JC: Introduction

In this action, the Singapore Rifle Association (“SRA”) claims that a resolution passed by the council of the Singapore Shooting Association (“SSA”), purporting to suspend SRA’s privileges at the National Shooting Centre (“NSC”), is ultra vires and should be declared null and void. SRA also claims that the president, secretary-general and treasurer of SSA (respectively the second, third and fourth defendants and collectively the “Individual Defendants”) conspired to cause SRA damage by procuring the passing of that resolution. SSA in turn brings a counterclaim, claiming an indemnity for the cost that it incurred in demolishing a structure which it describes as having been illegally built by SRA at the NSC.

I have allowed SRA’s claim, granting a declaration that the resolution is null and void and ordering the Individual Defendants to pay damages to compensate SRA for the costs of investigating and responding to their conspiracy. I have also dismissed SSA’s counterclaim on the basis that SSA acted in breach of contract when it demolished the structure. It therefore cannot claim an indemnity for the cost of that demolition from SRA under the indemnity clause in the said contract.

The defendants have appealed against my decision. I now set out my reasons in full.

Background The parties

The plaintiff, SRA was founded in 1862 as a recreational sports club dedicated to the sport of shooting. It has maintained that purpose since, and is today a registered society under the Societies Act (Cap 311, 2014 Rev Ed). Since August 2015, its chairman has been Mr Eng Fook Hoong.1 Mr Eng is assisted by Mr Conrad Chung, who is SRA’s honorary secretary.2 Before Mr Eng took office, SRA was chaired by Mr Loo Woei Harng.

Like SRA, the Singapore Gun Club (“SGC”) is a recreational sports club dedicated to the sport of shooting. It was founded in the 1950s, and its president today is Mr Michael Vaz Lorrain, the second defendant. Mr Yap Beng Hui, the third defendant, is one of SGC’s two vice-presidents, and Mr Patrick Chen, the fourth defendant, is SGC’s honorary secretary. Mr Vaz, Mr Yap and Mr Chen are the second, third and fourth defendants respectively.

SRA and SGC are the two founding members of SSA, the first defendant, which is Singapore’s national authority or “national sports association” (“NSA”) for the sport of shooting.3 SSA is a registered charity and an institution of a public character under the Charities Act (Cap 37, 2007 Rev Ed) as well as a registered society under the Societies Act. Its objects include coordinating, regulating, advising and administering all matters relating to the sport of shooting, and safeguarding the interests of the shooting sport.4

Mr Vaz was elected president of SSA in May 2013,5 and he has held that office ever since. His deputies in SGC, Mr Yap and Mr Chen, have also been secretary general and treasurer of SSA respectively since September 2014.6 SSA has an advisor in BG (Ret) Lim Kim Lye, who was invited by Mr Vaz to join the SSA council in that capacity in 2013.7 Mr David Lieu has been SSA’s general manager since December 2014.8 At the material time, Mr Loo Woei Harng was SRA’s representative on the SSA council.

The National Shooting Centre

Shooting activities for SRA took place at the NSC, which is a complex of shooting ranges located at Old Chua Chu Kang Road.9 At the NSC, SRA and SGC each had an armoury, where the firearms, ammunition and other shooting equipment belonging to each club were respectively stored.10 BG Lim had once proposed that all firearms in the NSC be stored in one armoury and all ammunition be stored in another. This proposal was never implemented, but it later became something of a flashpoint.

The NSC is built on land which is owned by the state and leased to the Singapore Sports Council, a statutory board whose responsibility is to oversee and promote sports generally in Singapore.11 Following a rebranding exercise in 2014, the Singapore Sports Council adopted the new name “Sport Singapore”. For convenience, I shall refer to it by its new name. At the material time, Sport Singapore sub-leased the NSC to SSA,12 and SSA was, in turn, entitled to manage and develop the NSC and enter into arrangements with SSA’s constituent members in relation to the use of the NSC.

One set of such arrangements prevailed between SSA and SRA. In March 2011, SSA granted SRA a licence to be the sole and exclusive operator and manager of all the pistol and rifle ranges at the NSC.13 After Mr Vaz assumed the presidency of SSA, he decided that SSA should take over from SRA the operation and management of all ranges at the NSC, and that in exchange, SRA would have one range for its exclusive use. So the licence was superseded by another contract between them titled “Proprietary Range Agreement” and executed in November 2014 (“the Agreement”).14 Under the Agreement, SRA was granted the right to construct a shooting range within a specified area of the NSC, called “Range X”, for SRA’s exclusive use, subject to certain agreed exceptions. In return, SRA had to pay an annual fee of $10,000 to SSA. The Agreement refers to the proposed shooting range for SRA’s exclusive use as the “Club Range”.15 The Club Range is also referred to by various witnesses during the trial as “Range 3”, given its location next to the two existing rifle ranges at the NSC known as “Range 1” and “Range 2”. In the Agreement, SRA also undertook to bear all necessary costs of the construction and to indemnify SSA against any loss caused by SRA’s activities on the land.16

The construction of the Club Range

Led by Mr Conrad Chung, who is an architect, SRA’s construction of the Club Range began promptly after the conclusion of the Agreement. At the time the Agreement was signed, the location known as Range X was not an empty plot of land. There was already a disused and dilapidated shooting range there. Instead of tearing down the existing structure and building a new one in its place, SRA’s plan for the construction of the Club Range was to refurbish the existing range.17 Mr Chung’s plan had two phases. The first phase would involve replacing the dilapidated pre-existing structures, including overhead steel trusses and old target structures. It would also involve minor works such as the installation of a lightning protection system. The second phase would involve the construction of a metal roof over a resting area. SRA’s understanding was that only the second phase needed approval from the relevant authorities, including building plan approval from the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore (“BCA”) and planning approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (“URA”).18 I shall refer to these approvals as “regulatory approvals” for convenience.

The first phase began in December 2014.19 Progress was interrupted that month by preparations for the 2015 South-East Asian Games,20 but the works resumed and the first phase was completed by March 2015.21 Throughout that period, SRA kept SSA and Sport Singapore updated on the project by email and letter.22

However, from April to October 2015, SSA secretly complained first to Sport Singapore and then to BCA about SRA’s construction work at Range X. Thus, on 15 September 2015, Mr Vaz, without SRA’s knowledge, sent an email to BCA and Sport Singapore to report that SRA had constructed “illegal structures”. The email also and “urgently ask[ed] that BCA calls for the demolition of the structures before anyone is seriously hurt”.23 BCA investigated the matter and conducted a site visit at Range X on 21 September 2015, which was attended by only Mr Vaz, Mr Lieu and two BCA officers.24 SRA was neither informed of the site visit nor invited to send any representative to attend. The BCA officers observed, at the time of inspection, that the structures “posed no immediate danger”.25 Undeterred, Mr Vaz sent another email to BCA after the site visit to offer his personal opinion that the wall of the original Range X was “never designed to take the loading” of what Mr Vaz regarded as “heavy beams” erected by SRA across the width of Range X. Mr Vaz expressed concern that the “excess loads” (in Mr Vaz’s words) could “lead to structural failure”.26 SRA would not find out about these complaints until much later.

During this period, SRA was plagued by other troubles at the NSC. In late December 2014,27 the basement of the NSC main building was flooded with water that had overflowed from an obstructed drain in the compound. As a result, equipment that was being kept in SRA’s armoury, including ammunition and target papers, was damaged. A second flood in the same place occurred in May 2015.28 Although it was less severe, SRA had to incur cleaning costs. In September 2015, SSA sought to evict SRA from SRA’s armoury in the NSC’s main building. After giving notice to SRA on 4 September 2015 to vacate within 30 days, SSA sued SRA on 16 October 2015, demanding that SRA deliver vacant possession of the SRA armoury29 in order that SSA could renovate the armoury and other facilities in the NSC.30 I shall refer to this as the Eviction Suit.

After completing its investigations, BCA issued Sport Singapore an order on 6 November 2015 requiring the structures that SRA had built on Range X be demolished because the structures had been erected without building plan approval.31 This demolition order was, however, accompanied by a letter which set out the steps that could be taken to regularise those structures if it was desired that they be retained (“the regularisation letter”).32 There was no indication in any of BCA’s communications that the structures were unsafe. Sport Singapore conveyed both the demolition order and the regularisation letter to SSA, leaving both the option of demolition and the option of regularisation open to SSA, without directing SSA to take any particular course of action.33 Mr Vaz promptly...

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