Wee Richard and Others v Wong Meng Meng & Partners (sued as a firm)

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeGoh Joon Seng J
Judgment Date25 March 1995
Neutral Citation[1995] SGHC 86
Citation[1995] SGHC 86
Defendant CounselSundaresh Menon and Lawrence Tan (Wong Meng Meng & Pnrs)
Plaintiff CounselAnthony Wee and Lok Vi Ming (ASK Wee)
Published date11 December 2003
Docket NumberSuit No 187 of 1994 (Registrar's Appeal No 100 of 1994)
Date25 March 1995
Subject MatterLetter to invite Attorney General's intervention constitutional provision,art 35(8) Constitution of the Republic of Singapore,Qualified privilege,Tort,Defamation,Whether privileged,Burden of proving malice on the plaintiff,Letter to Attorney General containing allegedly defamatory material

This was an appeal by the plaintiffs against the decision of the learned senior assistant registrar given on the application of the defendants ordering that the statement of claim herein be struck out and the action dismissed with costs pursuant to O 18 r 19 of the Rules of the Supreme Court and under the inherent jurisdiction of the Court. I dismissed the appeal. The plaintiffs have appealed to the Court of Appeal. I now give my reasons.

The parties

The first plaintiff is an advocate and solicitor practising in the firm of ASK Wee. The second plaintiff is a bank officer and a member of the Bukit Timah Saddle Club (BTSC). The third plaintiff is a medical practitioner.

The defendant is a firm of solicitors who acted for one Lawrence G Cohen (Cohen), a member of BTSC.

The facts

What led to these proceedings were three incidents on 28 September 1993.

First incident

At about 6pm Cohen was driving along the road leading to BTSC on his way there for riding lessons. He was overtaken by the second plaintiff who drove past him at a speed which, in his view, was very much in excess of the speed limit. Cohen was disturbed by this as the speed and the noise of a speeding vehicle could cause horses in the riding path along the said road to bolt. This in turn could injure the rider and or the horse. His two daughters were also at that time scheduled for riding lessons at the club. When Cohen eventually caught up with the second plaintiff at the BTSC car park he went up to her and advised her of his concern and that he was going to report her to the BTSC disciplinary committee. According to Cohen, the second plaintiff made some rude and sarcastic remarks in reply and appeared not to be remorseful.

Second incident

At about 7pm, after his riding lessons Cohen went to the BTSC stable office and asked a riding instructress for the surname of the second plaintiff with a view to making a report to the disciplinary committee on the first incident. Before Cohen could get a reply from the riding instructress, the second plaintiff said ` Tan, and don`t you forget it `. Feeling more incensed, Cohen went to the club house and consulted the club captain who advised him to lodge a formal complaint with the BTSC disciplinary committee. Cohen then left the club house and proceeded to the car park from where he intended to drive home. This was at about 7.45pm.

Third incident

According to Cohen as he was walking toward his car he was confronted by the three plaintiffs. The first plaintiff then said to him ` If you want to fight, fight me and not a woman. ` The first and third plaintiffs then moved forward towards him in a threatening manner and seemed to be preparing for a fight. Cohen then suggested that they settle the matter at the nearest police station. The suggestion was not taken up by the plaintiffs but the intervention of some club members prevented the situation from getting worse.

On or about 7 October 1993, Cohen was served with a private summons dated 30 September 1993 (PSS 456/93).
The charge read:

You, Lawrence Cohen ... are charged that you on 28 September 1993 at approximately 7pm in the compound of the Bukit Timah Saddle Club did threaten one Justine Tan Tun Hwa with bodily injury with the intent to cause her alarm and you have thereby committed an offence under s 503 of the Penal Code (Cap 224).

On being served with PSS 456/93 Cohen instructed the defendants to defend him.
In the meantime, his complaint arising out of the three incidents had been lodged with the BTSC disciplinary committee. Pending the decision of the BTSC disciplinary committee, Cohen withheld filing cross-summonses and instead instructed the defendants to write to the Attorney General to seek his intervention to withdraw PSS 456/93 on his undertaking not to pursue criminal proceedings against the plaintiffs arising out of the said incidents.

Accordingly the defendants on 22 November 1993 wrote to the Attorney General.
Their letter to the Attorney General contained the following passage (the passage complained of):

Mr Wee, Ms Tan and Dr Sen [referring to the plaintiffs] had deliberately and wilfully entered into the BTSC grounds to intimidate our client by threatening him with violence and to attempt to provoke a breach of the peace.

Pending a reply from the Attorney General, as there was no settlement in the meantime, Cohen filed a formal complaint and, accordingly, two cross private summonses, being PSS 537/93 and PSS 538/93, were issued on 1 December 1993 against the second and first plaintiffs respectively.
He did not proceed against the third plaintiff because he had learnt that the latter was ill with cancer.

On 2 December 1993 the Attorney General replied declining to interfere with the process issued.

Pending the hearing of the summons and the cross-summonses, Cohen attempted to settle the matter by offering to exchange suitable private apologies with the second plaintiff and all three private summonses would be withdrawn.
The second plaintiff, however, insisted through M/s ASK Wee`s letter of 3 January 1994 to the defendants as follows:

Our client is prepared to reconsider the matter and proposes to settle PSS 456/93 as follows:

(1) your client makes an open apology to our client for behaving like a typical road bully;

(2) your client indemnifies our client in respect of the legal costs and expenses to which she had been put through;

(3) your client makes a donation (to be agreed upon) to the Cancer Society as a sign of his remorse.

As we understand them, PSS 537/93 and PSS 538/93 are in respect of matters in which your client is the complainant. We are instructed to say that our client does not accept that they should be used as a collateral purpose to coerce our client to withdraw PSS 456/93.

We are therefore instructed that since your client has seen fit to prefer charges against Richard Wee and Ms Justine Tan, he should be prepared to prove his case. Our clients stand ready to defend those charges vigorously.

Those being the terms, it was not surprising that no settlement could be achieved.
The three summonses had by then been fixed for hearing with PSS 456/93 to be heard before PSS 537/93 and PSS 538/93. PSS 456/93 was heard over three days from 4 to 6 January 1994 in Court 18 of the Subordinate Courts. Cohen was represented by Mr Wong Meng Meng, a partner of the defendant firm. At the conclusion of the prosecution case in PSS 456/93, Cohen was acquitted without his defence being called.

Notwithstanding his acquittal, Cohen was still prepared subject to certain terms to withdraw his cross-summonses when they came up for hearing on 7 January 1994.
Mr Anthony Wee Soon Kim of the firm of ASK Wee, acting for the first and second plaintiffs, indicated that he had no instructions to settle. The magistrate thereupon decided (and rightly so in the circumstances) to speak to the parties in his chambers without counsel being present. After the magistrate had spoken to the parties an agreement was arrived at whereby the cross-summonses would be withdrawn. The terms of the settlement were then written out by Mr Wong Meng Meng, passed to Mr Anthony Wee Soon Kim, read and approved by the first and second plaintiffs and finally signed by all three parties. The terms recorded as an undertaking (the undertaking) read:

We, Larry Cohen, Justine Tan and Richard Wee, each undertake not to commence or take any proceedings hereafter of any kind or nature, whether criminal or civil, in respect of the three incidents on 28 September 1993 at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club, and in respect of any acts or correspondence arising therefrom, including the lodging of an appeal in PSS 456/93, save that the proceedings within the jurisdiction of the Club shall not be affected by this undertaking.

Dated 7 January 1994.

Following the signing of the undertaking by Cohen, the first and second plaintiffs, PSS 537/93 and PSS 538/93 were withdrawn.

Notwithstanding the undertaking to which only the third plaintiff was not a party, the plaintiffs commenced this suit against the defendants on 7 February 1994 claiming damages for defamation arising from the passage complained of.
A similar claim was brought by the third plaintiff (as sole plaintiff) in S 249/94 on 21 February 1994 against Cohen. In this suit it was alleged that the defendants ` falsely and maliciously wrote and published of and concerning ` the plaintiffs the passage complained of, the natural and ordinary meaning of which meant and were...

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    • Malaysia
    • High Court (Malaysia)
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    • Malaysia
    • High Court (Malaysia)
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    ...will be used to verify the originality of this document via eFILING portal (a) Wee Richard and other v Wong Meng Meng & Partners [1995] 1 SLR(R) 593 at pg. 602 to 604, albeit by reference to the doctrine of qualified Niranjan Dolly K v Toh Laye Lan (Zhuo Lilan) [2002] SGHC 294 at pp 614 – 6......

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