TDK v TDL

CourtFamily Court (Singapore)
JudgeWong Keen Onn
Judgment Date22 January 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGFC 1
Citation[2015] SGFC 1
Publication Date11 March 2015
Docket NumberDivorce Suit No 2386 of 2012, Summons No 10837 of 2014
Plaintiff CounselMs Adriene Cheong (M/S Harry Elias & Partners LLC)
Defendant CounselDefendant in person
SubjectFamily Law,Divorce,Whether Interim Judgment should be granted,Civil Procedure,Vacation of Trial dates
District Judge Wong Keen Onn: Introduction

The Plaintiff (wife) filed on 18 May 2012 for a divorce based on unreasonable behaviour of the husband. The Defendant husband filed a defence. The Plaintiff filed an amended Statement of Claim and then set down the matter after the Defendant failed to file his amended Defence. The Defendant then filed an application to stay the proceedings on forum non conveniens but this was dismissed by the Family Court. Subsequently, both claims were set down for trial nearly 2 years later on a contested basis on 28 April 2014. However, the matter had to be adjourned to 26 June 2014 for the Court to first deal with Defendant’s various applications in summons 5374/2014 and summons 5837/2014i. The contested divorce was heard on 26 June 2014 and 6 August 2014. At the start of the second hearing day on 6 August 2014, the Defendant sought a 6-week adjournment for the trial to engage a lawyer but his request was dismissed. The hearing concluded on the same day (6 August 2014) when the Court granted an interim judgment based on the Plaintiff’s amended claim to be made final in three months. The ancillaries were all adjourned to Chambers.

The appeal

On 18 August 2014, the husband filed two appeals, the first against the Court’s decision not to grant an adjournment of the hearing and second, to ask to set aside the courts’ decision to grant the Interim Judgment. I now set out the reasons for my decisions.

Whether or not the contested divorce proceedings should be adjourned

The Defendant filed an application in Summons 10837/2014 on 30 July 2014 to either adjourn or stay the further hearing of the contested divorce hearing in D2386/2012 on 6 August 2014 and it contained the following prayers: Prayers 1 & 2:To adjourn the divorce hearing for 6 weeks till the 3rd week of September 2014 as his lawyer was unavailable; Prayer 3:that SUM 6139 of 2014 seeking adjudication in accordance with the Hindu marriage Act be disposed of prior to the contested divorce proceedings in D2386 of 2012; Prayer 4:that the divorce hearing be stayed until disposal of my appeal RAS 171 of 2013 and RAS172 of 2013 by the High Court Prayer 5:that the Plaintiff be directed to provide airfare/ miscellaneous expenses for the Defendant’s 2-way trip between India and Singapore for attending the Court proceedings here;

Defendant’s arguments

The Defendant’s submissions can be summarised as follows: First, he had a solicitor to represent him in Court but that the solicitor was having a separate hearing in another Court in the State Courts of Singapore from 6 to 8 August 2014ii. According to him, he needed a legal expert to present his case. He asked for his case to be adjourned till the 3rd week of September 2014 as his solicitor can only represent him thereafteriii. Second, he wanted the contested divorce hearing in D2386/2012 to be stayed until the disposal of another summons 6139 of 2014. This summons 6139/2014 was fixed for further PTC on 19 August 2014. In summons 6139/2014, he had asked for the divorce to be adjudicated in accordance with the Indian Hindu Marriage Act. When asked as to when, in his view, the SUM 6139 /2014, including any appeal from that case, would be completely disposed of, the Defendant said that it was likely to be after the 3rd week of September 2014. He argued that the Hindu Marriage Act was applicable to all Hindus irrespective of geographical and political boundaries. He submitted that since both he and the Plaintiff were Hindus by birth and had continued to be Hindus, the divorce should be governed by the Hindu Marriage Act.iv. Third, the Defendant said that he had filed an appeal against DJ Colin Tan’s decisions in RAS 171 and 172 of 2013 for striking out his notice of appeal in RAS 29/2013 (against the earlier decision of DJ Angelina Hing in dismissing his stay application on forum non conveniens) and for not ordering reimbursement of his litigation expenses respectively. He said that as RAS 171 and 172 of 2013 had not been dealt with, the divorce proceedings should not continue as the issue of jurisdiction of the Family Court of Singapore should first be resolved. As for Prayer (5) of Summons 10837/2014, the Defendant wanted the court to order the Plaintiff wife to pay to him SGD 1,500.00 for the costs of his return air fare from Ranchi, India, to Singapore and back for attending court proceedings in Singapore pursuant to section 26 of the Hindu Marriage Act as part of maintenance pendente lite.

Plaintiff wife’s arguments

The Plaintiff counsel urged the court to dismiss the Defendant’s summons 10837/2014 for the following reasons: The Defendant’s renewed request (in Prayers 1 and 2 of Summons 10837/2014) at this late stage for more time to get legal representation was not a sincere one. This was because the Defendant had mentioned some 6 weeks ago (at the 26 June hearing) that he needed about 8 weeks to engage a lawyer. Six weeks have since passed and yet the Defendant had not engaged a lawyerv. Hence, there was no need to further adjourn the matter until the 3rd week of September 2014. Second, the Defendant’s request for SUM 6139 to be first dealt with was a backdoor attempt to further delay proceedings. The Plaintiff counsel pointed out that at the hearing on 26 June 2014, it was the Defendant who told the court that he did not want the Court to hear SUM 6139/2014 and that was why the hearing of SUM 6139/2014 was not brought forward before the commencement of the contested divorce hearing. Again, at the Pre-trial Conference (PTC) on 1 July 2014, the Defendant had also asked to file his reply affidavit for that summons by 12 August 2014 even though he was aware that the further hearing for the Contested Divorce trial was already fixed on an earlier date (on 6 August 2014). In any event, counsel submitted that the Defendant’s application in SUM 6139 for the proceedings to be dealt with under the Hindu Marriage Act was a repeat of his earlier application in SUM 5734/2014 which the Court had earlier heard and dismissed on 5 May 2014. The Defendant should not be allowed to file multiple applications on the same mattervi. Third, the Defendant’s request for a stay of divorce proceedings pending hearing of RAS 171 of 2013 and RAS 172 of 2013 is also a repeat of his earlier application in SUM 8370/2014. That application was heard and dismissed by the Court on 26 June 2014. The Defendant had not taken any follow-up action so far on any of these two appeals since they have been filed on 14 Dec 2013 and 16 December 2013 respectively. In addition, RAS 171 of 2013 and RAS 172 of 2013 do not deal directly with the issue of the stay of proceedings in Singapore. RAS 171 of 2013 only dealt with the appeal against the striking out of RAS 29/2013vii. As for the Defendant’s prayer for his airfare costs to be reimbursed, the Plaintiff counsel stated that there was no legal basis for Defendant to claim this and also because the Defendant did not actually incur such costs after 26 June 14viii.

My decision on the Defendant’s application.

On the evidence, it was not true that the Defendant had engaged a lawyer Mr Ranjit Singh to act for him in this matter. No notice of appointment of a lawyer to act for the Defendant has been filed and there is no written correspondence either to the Court or to the Plaintiff counsel to confirm that the Defendant has engaged a lawyer to represent him in this case. More importantly, Mr Ranjit Singh came to the Court on that day to confirm that “he was not the Defendant’s lawyer and that he would not be acting for the Defendant in this matter”ix. In the face of Mr Ranjit Singh’s denial that he was acting for the Defendant, the Defendant changed tack and requested for a 6 to 8 weeks adjournment to either engage Mr Ranjit Singh or another lawyer to act for him.

I will first deal with the Defendant’s request to adjourn the hearing to give him more time to engage a counsel to act for him. It is pertinent to note that the authors of the Singapore Civil Procedure 2013, 3rd Edition Volume 1 at pages 624, 635 and 636 had summarised the position adopted in the Singapore Courts on the exercise of judicial discretion in dealing with applications to vacate a hearing date. At page 624, the authors said as follows:

Principles applicable to the vacation of hearing dates – In the interest of fair administration of justice and efficiency and to avoid wastage of judicial time, the High Court has adopted a strict view of the question of vacating trial dates. Strong compelling grounds must exist before the court will consider the exercise of its discretion. See the decisions of the Court of Appeal in Chan Kern Miang v Kea Resources Pte Ltd [1998] 2 SLR(R) 85; at [13] 85 and Su Sh-Hsyu v Wee Yue Chew [2007] 3 SLR(R) 673; at [39]. In the latter case, the Court of Appeal emphasised that the present judicial policy in relation to the religious and punctilious observance of hearing dates and minimal tolerance for unmeritorious adjournments has not and will not be modified (at [39]). ….”

In Su Sh-Hsyu v Wee Yue Chew [2007] 3 SLR(R) 673; at [39], the Court of Appeal further elaborated that:

Court hearing days and time, being scarce and expensive resources, should not be wasted: Tan Huay Lim v Loke Chiew Mun [1998] SGHC 255 at [10]. It follows that strong compelling grounds must prevail before the court will consider the exercise of its discretion to vacate trial dates: Chan Kern Miang v Kea Resources Pte Ltd [1998] 2 SLR(R) 85 at [13]. In Unilever Computer Services Ltd v Tiger Leasing SA [1983] 1 WLR 856 at 857, the English Court of Appeal clarified that where the court had fixed dates, it would require "cogent reasons" before such dates were vacated. The Singapore standard of "strong compelling grounds" is a higher threshold that requires demonstrably convincing reasons to move a court to exercise its discretion. In this regard, we should also...

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