Tan Geok Loo v Koh Beng Quee and Others

Judgment Date03 November 1965
Date03 November 1965
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 14 of 1965
CourtFederal Court (Singapore)
Tan Geok Loo
Koh Beng Quee and others

[1965] SGFC 6

Tan Ah Tah ACJ


M Buttrose J


A V Winslow J

Civil Appeal No 14 of 1965

Federal Court

Land–Adverse possession–Appellant claiming to have uninterrupted possession of land for more than 12 years–Whether residence on land of continuous or permanent nature–Trusts–Lease of land for purposes of worship–Whether lessees of land were made trustees of land or only conferred with beneficial interest

The appellant commenced legal proceedings, claiming that she had acquired a title to 27 Tras Street (“the land”) by adverse possession for more than 12 years and that the respondents had trespassed on the land. The first three respondents, who were members of the Koh Benevolent Association (“the Association”), contended that the appellant was permitted to stay in a hut on the land for short periods. They claimed that the original lessees of the land, who were trustees of a temple situated on the land, had entrusted the management of the temple to members of the Association, and that they had control of the land since 1936. The three respondents counterclaimed for, inter alia,vacant possession of the land. The fourth respondent, the State Advocate-General, was added as a defendant to represent any possible interests of a charitable or public nature. An examination of the previous history of the land revealed a lease dating from 1903, whereby the Crown had demised the land and premises to the original lessees who were described in the lease as “the present trustees of the Chinese temple now standing on the piece of land hereby demised”.

The trial judge dismissed the appellant's claim and ordered vacant possession of the land. In this appeal, the appellant argued that the trial judge was wrong in holding that the original lessees took the lease as trustees and not beneficiaries. She contended that the respondents were beneficiaries who had failed to assert their title to the land, whereas she had been in possession of the land.

Held, dismissing the appeal:

(1) The lease had described the lessees as “trustees of the Chinese temple”; and the lessees had covenanted not to use the premises for any purpose other than as a place of worship. Only a yearly rent of “one pepper corn if and when the same shall be demanded” was stipulated in the lease. No words of severance indicating an intention to create only a tenancy in common were used in the lease. These facts led to the irresistible conclusion that the lease created a trust and not a beneficial interest. In addition, the original lessees were men of substance: there was no reason why they should have been given only a beneficial interest when they were clearly recognised as trustees of the temple then existing on the land; and when, moreover, they could never have expected to make any profit from a beneficial lease: at [12], [13] and [16].

(2) Since no words of severance were used indicating an intention to create distinct and separate interests, the result was a joint tenancy: at [14] and [15].

(3) There were more than ample reasons for the trial judge to regard the appellant as a highly dubious witness and for doubting her veracity as well as that of her brother-in-law. There was also no cogent reason why the appellate court should interfere with the trial judge's findings of fact concerning the appellant's claim of long possession. The available evidence made it quite clear that her residence on the land was never of a continuous or permanent nature. On her own evidence, she was merely an agent of the temple and could never have become the owner of the land and premises. She was in no better a position than an intermeddler in a public trust of a clearly charitable nature. The respondents' evidence showed that they and the association had been continuously in charge of the temple since 1925, and that any recognition accorded to the appellant was due to her being the widow of a fellow-clansman: at [24], [25], [29] to [32], [36] and [38].

Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1985] AC 374 (folld)

Perry v Clissold [1907] AC 73 (refd)

Sassoon, Re [1935] AC 146 (folld)

Crown Lands Ordinance (Cap 244, 1955Rev Ed)s 8

S C Chia (Lee & Lee) for the appellant

S K Lee (S K Lee) for the first, second and third respondents

Wilfred Wee Han Kim (State Counsel) for the State Advocate-General.

A V Winslow J

1 This is an appeal from the judgment of F A Chua J dated 6 January 1965, dismissing the appellant's claim with costs and ordering vacant possession of Lots 130-1 and 130-2 in Town Sub-div III in the Island of Singapore together with the Chinese temple and buildings erected thereon and known as 27-A Tras Street (hereinafter referred to as “the land and premises”), in favour of the first three defendants/respondents (hereinafter referred to as “the respondents”).

2 The plaintiff, as the appellant then was, claimed that she had been in uninterrupted possession of the said land and premises since 1928 in circumstances whereby she acquired a title thereto by adverse possession for more than twelve years. She complained of trespass on the said land and premises by the respondents “or either of them, or either of their servants or agents” on diverse dates between 13 September 1960 and 23 April 1961. She, therefore, claimed a declaration that they were not entitled to enter, cross, occupy or remain thereon and an injunction to restrain them, their servants or agents from doing so. She also asked for an order that the entry of the registration of an order of court dated 17 January 1961, vesting the said land and premises in the respondents and appointing them trustees of the temple thereon be expunged from the records of the Registrar of Deeds.

3 The fourth defendant/respondent, the State Advocate-General, was added as a defendant by an order of court dated 24 January 1962 in the early stages of the trial to...

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