Tok Ee Cheng v Jardin Smith International Pte Ltd

JudgeLee Seiu Kin J
Judgment Date26 May 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] SGHC 111
Citation[2020] SGHC 111
Defendant CounselChoo Ching Yeow Collin and Goh Guan Hui Felix (Tan Peng Chin LLC)
Published date30 May 2020
Hearing Date17 March 2020,20 March 2020
Plaintiff CounselLiew Tuck Yin David (David Liew Law Practice)
Date26 May 2020
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 1190 of 2019
Subject MatterAgency,Powers of attorney,Administrative Law,Remedies,construction of agent's authority,Declarations
Lee Seiu Kin J: Introduction

In this originating summons, the plaintiff (“Tok”) applied for a declaration that certain powers of attorney that she purportedly executed were null, void and of no effect.1 On 20 March 2020, after hearing counsel for the parties, I dismissed the application. On 6 April 2020, Tok appealed against my decision. I now give the grounds for my decision.

Facts The parties

Tok purchased 14 plots of land in the United Kingdom through 11 sale and purchase agreements over approximately six years.2 These were purchased from Jardin Smith International Pte Ltd (“Jardin”) for investment purposes.

Jardin purchases land, sub-divides it into plots, and sells these plots as investments. A profit is made when the land is eventually developed or acquired for a higher price. To facilitate this, all buyers of the subdivided plots appoint Jardin as the managing agent of the entire property, tasking it with developing the land and increasing its value. The buyers delegate certain managerial powers to Jardin through powers of attorney. The powers of attorney signed by Tok (“the POAs”) were the subject of this dispute.

Background to the dispute

Each of the 11 sale and purchase agreements executed by Tok were accompanied by two POAs and one TP1 Form from land registry.3 The two POAs were for use in Singapore and the United Kingdom respectively while the TP1 Forms were administrative documents from the English Land Registry used in transferring registered titles.4 While the sale and purchase agreements were duly executed by both parties and witnessed by Jardin’s employees, the execution of the POAs and the TP1 Forms were not signed by anyone who had been physically present when Tok signed them. 5 However each POA contained a declaration signed by a person purporting to have witnessed it.6

Jardin’s explanation was that “as a matter of practice”,7 its employees would not sign off as witnesses on the POAs. Its understanding was that “attestations as witness should be signed off by a witness unrelated to and not under [its] employ”.8 Instead, Jardin would keep the POAs and the TP1 forms and have a third party sign them as a witness before sending them to the United Kingdom to facilitate the land transfers.9 This was explained to Tok who was given to understand that this was the “usual procedure”10 and “normal for all investors”.11

There were no complaints from Tok initially. Then in January 2012, plans for a rail development in the UK were announced.12 This involved the compulsory acquisition of four of Tok’s plots (along with plots belonging to other investors) to make way for the said railway. Tok began making various complaints ranging from fraud and mismanagement of her assets13 to “[un]satisfactory answers or updates”14 about her investments and consequent to that, uncertainty about Jardin’s “legal responsibility as a Managing Agent as far as [the compulsory acquisition was] concerned”.15 With regard to the POAs specifically, Tok alleged that there were material misrepresentations made by Jardin about the POAs at the time of execution,16 that she had never received confirmed copies of the POAs,17 and that she had never intended to confer authority on Jardin to negotiate on her behalf regarding the compulsory acquisition.18 There were also complaints of procedural irregularities in the execution of the POAs.19 These alleged procedural defects were the subject of the present application.20

Issues to be determined

The application itself was narrowly framed. As noted by Tok herself, the only issue was a matter “of law (and not of facts)”.21 The question was whether there were any procedural irregularities that invalidated the POAs. Therefore, I did not consider matters such as Jardin’s supposed mismanagement of Tok’s assets, the scope of the powers conferred by the POAs and the alleged misrepresentations made by Jardin concerning the POAs.

The alleged procedural irregularities were that: The execution of the POAs had not been attested by a Commissioner for Oaths or Notary Public.22 The POAs had not been registered with the Supreme Court.23 The execution of the POAs had not been properly witnessed.24

However, this being an application for declaratory relief, the preliminary question was whether the requirements for declaratory relief had been satisfied. The key requirement and the focus of my decision was whether there was a practical purpose to granting the relief sought. I found that there was none. On that basis alone, I saw it fit to dismiss the application.

My decision

In exercising its discretion to grant declaratory relief, the courts look to whether there is any useful or practical purpose for doing so: Scott Latham v Credit Suisse First Boston [1999] SGHC 302 at [59], affirmed on appeal by Latham Scott v Credit Suisse First Boston [2000] 2 SLR(R) 30 at [77]. When queried as to what utility a declaration would achieve, Tok submitted three reasons.

Firstly, she suggested that the declaration would “[clarify] the effect of the deeds of power of attorney she [had] signed”.25 I rejected this entirely. Declaratory relief must be directed to the determination of legal controversies and not to answering abstract or hypothetical questions: Salijah bte Ab Latef v Mohd Irwan bin Abdullah Teo [1996] 2 SLR(R) 80 at [58] citing Ainsworth v Criminal Justice Commission (1992) 66 ALJR 271 at [278]. Clarity, though...

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1 cases
  • Republic of India v Vedanta Resources plc
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 8 October 2020 [17]). In other words, a declaration must serve some useful or practical purpose (Tok Ee Cheng v Jardin Smith International Pte Ltd [2020] SGHC 111 at [10]). These requirements show that – although the court has a wide discretionary power to grant declaratory relief – the discretion must......

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