Tan Boon Heng v Lau Pang Cheng David

Judgment Date04 September 2013
Date04 September 2013
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 119 of 2012
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Tan Boon Heng
Lau Pang Cheng David

Chao Hick Tin JA


Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA


Quentin Loh J

Civil Appeal No 119 of 2012

Court of Appeal

Civil Procedure—Appeals—Registrar's Appeals—Assessment of damages—Standard of review of decision made by Registrar of Supreme Court—Order 56 r 1 (1) Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed)

The appellant and the respondent were involved in a road accident. Interlocutory judgment was given in the District Court, whereby the appellant bore 95% of liability for the accident and the respondent 5%. An order was also made for damages to be assessed. The action was then transferred to the High Court, where an assistant registrar (‘the AR’) heard the assessment of damages and subsequently made an award of $281,877.75 (excluding interest) in the respondent's favour. Dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to a High Court judge in chambers (‘the Judge’), who dismissed the appeal. The appellant then brought the present appeal against the Judge's decision.

Held, dismissing the appeal:

(1) The Judge, in affirming the AR's assessment of damages, had not, in any way, acted on wrong principles, misapprehended the facts, or made a wholly erroneous estimate of the damages. There were thus no grounds warranting appellate intervention in this case: at [8] .

(2) In an appeal to a judge in chambers from a decision of the Registrar, the deputy registrar or an assistant registrar of the Supreme Court (‘the Registrar’), the judge's discretion was unfettered by the exercise of the Registrar's discretion below, although due weight should be given to the latter's decision: at [22] and [46] .

(3) A judge in chambers could overturn the Registrar's findings of fact on the oral evidence only if they were plainly wrong or against the weight of the evidence. However, the judge was in as good a position as the Registrar to assess the veracity of the witness' evidence, if the Registrar's assessment of the witness' credibility was based on inferences drawn from: (a) the internal consistency in the contents of the witness' testimony; or (b) the external consistency between the contents of the witness' evidence and the extrinsic evidence: at [43] .

(4) Where the Registrar's findings of fact were based on affidavit or documentary evidence, a judge in chambers was in just as good a position as the Registrar to make his own findings on the same, and he was also entitled to draw the appropriate inferences from this evidence and the Registrar's notes of hearing: at [44] .

(5) Where the Registrar's finding of fact was based partly on the oral evidence and partly on the affidavit or documentary evidence, a judge in chambers was entitled to overturn such a finding only where there was sufficient evidence to show that, more likely than not, the finding was not warranted: at [45] and [46] .

(6) While the principles above were intended to apply in an appeal to a judge in chambers from the Registrar's decision on an assessment of damages, they were just as likely to be applicable where the appeal was against the Registrar's decision made in other proceedings which involved an examination of witnesses or the taking of oral evidence, such as the hearing of inquiries or the taking of accounts: at [47] .

ACU v ACR [2011] 1 SLR 1235 (refd)

Akhinur Nashu Kazi v Chong Siak Hong [2009] SGHC 138 (refd)

Ang Leng Hock v Leo Ee Ah [2004] 2 SLR (R) 361; [2004] 2 SLR 361 (refd)

Apted v Apted [1930] P 246 (refd)

Asia Star, The [2010] 2 SLR 1154 (refd)

Blundell v Rimmer [1971] 1 WLR 123 (refd)

C M Van Stillevoldt BV v E L Carriers Inc [1983] 1 WLR 207 (refd)

Chang Ah Lek v Lim Ah Koon [1998] 3 SLR (R) 551; [1999] 1 SLR 82 (refd)

Clark Jonathan Michael v Lee Khee Chung [2010] 1 SLR 209 (refd)

Compact Metal Industries Ltd v PPG Industries (Singapore) Pte Ltd [2012] SGHC 91 (refd)

Cooper v Cooper [1936] 2 All ER 542 (refd)

Cordle v Cordle [2002] 1 WLR 1441 (refd)

Davies v Powell Duffryn Associated Collieries Ltd [1942] AC 601 (refd)

Evans v Bartlam [1937] AC 473 (refd)

Fielding v Variety Inc [1967] 2 QB 841 (refd)

G (formerly P) v P (Ancillary Relief: Appeal) [1977] 1 WLR 1376 (refd)

Goh Sin Huat Electrical Pte Ltd v Ho See Jui [2012] 3 SLR 1038 (refd)

Gorne v Scales [2006] EWCA Civ 311 (refd)

Herbs and Spices Trading Post Pte Ltd v Deo Silver (Pte) Ltd [1990] 2 SLR (R) 685; [1990] SLR 1234 (refd)

Hong Leong Bank Bhd v Soh Seow Poh [2009] 4 SLR (R) 525; [2009] 4 SLR 525 (refd)

Ladd v Marshall [1954] 1 WLR 1489 (refd)

Lassiter Ann Masters v To Keng Lam [2004] 2 SLR (R) 392; [2004] 2 SLR 392 (refd)

Lauerman v Lauerman (Practice Note) [1992] 1 WLR 734 (refd)

Marsh v Marsh [1993] 1 WLR 744 (refd)

Poh Huat Heng Corp Pte Ltd v Hafizul Islam Kofil Uddin [2012] 3 SLR 1003 (refd)

Sansom v Sansom [1966] P 52 (refd)

Sie Choon Poh v Amara Hotel Properties Pte Ltd [2008] 2 SLR (R) 1076; [2008] 2 SLR 1076 (refd)

Singapore Airlines Ltd v Tan Shwu Leng [2001] 3 SLR (R) 439; [2001] 4 SLR 593 (refd)

Swiss Butchery Pte Ltd v Huber Ernst [2013] 4 SLR 381 (refd)

Tan Siew Bin Ronnie v Chin Wee Keong [2008] 1 SLR (R) 178; [2008] 1 SLR 178 (refd)

Tan Yu Min Winston v Uni-Fruitveg Pte Ltd [2008] 4 SLR (R) 825; [2008] 4 SLR 825 (refd)

Tanfern Ltd v Cameron-Mac Donald (Practice Note) [2000] 1 WLR 1311 (refd)

Tat Seng Machine Movers Pte Ltd v Orix Leasing Singapore Ltd [2009] 4 SLR (R) 1101; [2009] 4 SLR 1101 (refd)

Teo Ai Ling v Koh Chai Kwang [2010] 2 SLR 1037 (refd)

Teo Eng Chuan v Nirumalan V Kanapathi Pillay [2003] 4 SLR (R) 442; [2003] 4 SLR 442 (refd)

Teo Seng Kiat v Goh Hwa Teck [2003] 1 SLR (R) 333; [2003] 1 SLR 333 (refd)

Thorben Langvad Linneberg v Leong Mei Kuen [2013] 1 SLR 207 (refd)

Tidswell v Tidswell (No 2) [1958] VR 601 (refd)

WBG Network (S) Pte Ltd v Sunny Daisy Ltd [2007] 1 SLR (R) 1133; [2007] 1 SLR 1133 (refd)

Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 2007 Rev Ed) s 62 (1)

Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) O 56 r 1 (1) (consd) ;O 32 r 9 (1) , O 37 r 1 (1)

Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (SI 1998 No 3132) (UK) rr 2.4, 52.11 (3) , Practice Direction 2 B, Practice Direction 52 A, Pt 7

Courts Act 2003 (c 39) (UK) s 109 (3) , Schedule 10

Courts Act 2003 (Commencement No 14) Order 2010 (SI 2010 No 2921) (UK)

Family Proceedings Rules 1991 (SI 1991 No 1247) (UK) r 8.1

Matrimonial Causes Rules 1977 (SI 1977 No 344) (UK) r 124

Rules of the Supreme Court 1965 (SI 1965 No 1776) (UK) O 58 rr 1, 2

Ramesh Appoo, Susila Ganesan and Rajashree Rajan (Just Law LLC) for theappellant

Goh Teck Wee (Goh JP & Wong) for the respondent.

Chao Hick Tin JA

(delivering the grounds of decision of the court):

1 This case arose from a road traffic accident in 2006. Liability was apportioned by consent, and the issue of damages was assessed by an assistant registrar (‘the AR’). Dissatisfied with the outcome of the assessment, the appellant (who was the defendant below) appealed against the AR's decision to a High Court judge in chambers (‘the Judge’). The appeal was dismissed: see Lau Pang Cheng David v Tan Boon Heng[2013] 1 SLR 783 (‘GD’). The appellant then appealed the Judge's decision to the Court of Appeal, resulting in the present proceedings. After hearing arguments from both parties, we unanimously dismissed the appeal with costs fixed at $12,000 to the respondent.

2 Apart from the substantive merits of the case which concerned the proper award of damages for the injuries suffered by the respondent plaintiff, an important legal issue was also canvassed before us, namely, what were the applicable principles governing a High Court judge's review, on appeal, of a decision made by the Registrar, the deputy registrar or an assistant registrar of the Supreme Court (‘the Registrar’) in an assessment of damages, particularly in relation to the Registrar's specific findings of fact based wholly on the oral evidence of witnesses adduced before him, as well as his finding (s) based on both oral and documentary evidence. These grounds of decision are delivered essentially to address this very issue.


3 The facts of this case are uncomplicated and may be shortly stated. The respondent is a surgeon specialising in ear, nose and throat. On 15 January 2006, he was cycling along the West Coast Highway when he was involved in a collision with a motor vehicle driven by the appellant. The bicycle was mangled and the respondent's helmet cracked.

4 The question of liability was resolved by consent and, on 15 July 2010, an interlocutory judgment was given in the District Court (‘DC’) in the respondent's favour. Under this judgment, the appellant shouldered 95% of liability, and the respondent 5%. The DC also ordered that damages were to be assessed.

5 Subsequently, on 20 September 2011, because it was thought that the damages assessed could exceed the jurisdictional limit of the DC, which is $250,000, the action was transferred to the High Court. The assessment of damages was heard by the AR over seven days during the period between 5 March 2012 and 13 April 2012. On 31 May 2012, the AR awarded the respondent damages amounting to $281,877.75, excluding interest. The appellant was dissatisfied with the AR's awards under four particular heads of relief, and appealed. The matter came before the Judge, who dismissed the appeal on 21 August 2012. The appellant then appealed against the Judge's decision to this court.

Our decision

6 This court may, of course, interfere with the decision of a judge in chambers (in relation to an appeal from the Registrar), but only on well-established principles of appellate intervention: C M Van Stillevoldt BV v EL Carriers Inc[1983] 1 WLR 207 at 208-209. At the stage when the matter comes before the Court of Appeal, it is the judge's exercise of discretion that will be examined even if he had adopted the reasons and decisions of the Registrar below...

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