Wee Siew Noi v Lee Mun Tuck (the administrator of the estate of Lee Wai Leng, deceased)

CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeKarthigesu J
Judgment Date10 April 1993
Neutral Citation[1993] SGCA 26
Citation[1993] SGCA 26
Defendant CounselS Rasanathan (Jacob Chacko Mohan Das & Partners)
Plaintiff CounselR Karuppan Chettiar with Premnath (Ng Kian Fong & Co)
Subject MatterExistence of conduct of defendant inconsistent with application,Whether defendant's delay in filing defence a factor to be taken against her,Principles applicable,Application to dismiss action for want of prosecution,Particular persons,Whether fair trial possible after long lapse of time,Whether defendant thereby prejudiced in her defence,Civil Procedure,Dismissal for want of prosecution
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 121 of 1990
Published date19 September 2003
Date10 April 1993

This is an appeal against the decision of Chao Hick Tin J upholding a decision of the assistant registrar dismissing an application by the second defendant (hereinafter `the defendant`) for dismissal of the plaintiff`s action in Suit No 2951 of 1982 for want of prosecution. We dismissed the appeal, and now give our reasons.

The plaintiff is the brother and administrator of the estate of Lee Wai Leng, deceased. On 25 July 1979, the deceased, who was a passenger in a motor car driven by the defendant, sustained fatal injuries in a collision between the car and a bus belonging to the Singapore Bus Services.

On 20 July 1982, a few days before the expiry of the limitation period, the plaintiff as the administrator of the estate of the deceased took out a writ against the defendant and her employer, one Tan Chin Kah (`Tan`) claiming damages for the benefit of the estate and the dependants of the deceased under the provisions of the Civil Law Act arising from the fatal injuries sustained by the deceased in the accident.

Nearly a year later, on 29 June 1983, the writ, endorsed with a statement of claim, was served on the defendant. This was after the limitation period had expired. The defendant duly entered appearance. The writ was not served on Tan. It appears that nothing happened thereafter, except that on 19 August 1989 the defendant`s solicitors were served with a notice of change of the plaintiff`s solicitors.

Thereafter, nothing was done until 14 April 1990, when the plaintiff filed a notice of intention to proceed. On 2 May 1990, the defendant applied by summons to have the plaintiff`s action dismissed for want of prosecution.

On 29 May 1990, before the application was heard, the plaintiff`s solicitors wrote to the defendant`s solicitors pointing out that no defence had been filed and giving the defendant 24 hours` notice to file one on pain of having default judgment entered against the defendant. On 30 May 1990, the defendant filed her defence.

On 9 July 1990, an assistant registrar heard the defendant`s application. He dismissed it. On 7 November 1990, the learned judge affirmed the assistant registrar`s decision [see [1991] 2 MLJ 324 ].

It will be seen that after serving the writ on the defendant, the plaintiff or his solicitors allowed the action to go to sleep for more than six years. Even after the plaintiff`s present solicitors took over the matter, nothing was done for another eight months until April 1990, when notice of intention to proceed was filed. The plaintiff says that he left everything to his former solicitors, who appear not to have given the case due attention. Even telephone calls to them went unanswered. The solicitors have not come forward to explain why the case has taken such a slow course.

In these circumstances, the defendant`s counsel submitted in the courts below and before us that there has been inordinate and inexcusable delay. He also submitted that this would prejudice the defence in the following ways, and here we quote from his written skeleton argument, especially as to the use of the verbs. Firstly, because of the considerable lapse of time, about 13 years after the accident, the memory of the defendant and her witnesses would have faded and their evidence may not come out as effectively or as impressively as it should. Secondly, it would be almost impossible to locate the material witnesses. Thirdly, relevant documents of the traffic police have been destroyed and other documents are likely to have been destroyed or to be no longer available. Fourthly, the claim for loss of earnings would no longer be verifiable, and witnesses on damages are not likely to be traceable after so many years. Fifthly, as the defendant was never informed that the writ had not been served on Tan, she has taken no steps to add Tan as a third party, and it may be too late to do so now. This will cause irremediable loss to the defendant as she was not insured.

Grounds of decision below

Chao Hick Tin J reviewed the facts and the authorities, particularly Allen v Sir Alfred...

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9 cases
  • The "Plato"
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 19 August 1995
    ...[1994] 2 AC 224; [1994] 1 All ER 568 (distd) Tsangaris v TzortzisThe Times (17 December 1976) (refd) Wee Siew Noi v Lee Mun Tuck [1993] 1 SLR (R) 583; [1993] 2 SLR 232 (folld) Civil Procedure–Striking out–Want of prosecution–Plaintiffs arresting defendants' vessel and obtaining security fro......
  • The "Million No II"
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 25 February 1998
    ...either as between themselves and the plaintiff or between each other or between them and a third party.` See Wee Siew Noi v Lee Mun Tuck [1993] 2 SLR 232 at pp 235-236 per Warren LH Khoo J (delivering the judgment of the Court of Appeal). The defendants` case is that there has been inordina......
  • Yeo Hock Chuan v Wong Chong Weng
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 23 May 1997
    ...long delay. In our view it was solely caused by the inaction of the plaintiff.The Court of Appeal in Wee Siew Noi v Lee Mun Tuck [1993] 2 SLR 232 has addressed the very question the learned judge was faced with. In that case too the defendant failed to file the defence. The delay in prosecu......
  • Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin v Lee Kuan Yew
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 22 August 2001
    ...Tokai Maru, The [1998] 2 SLR (R) 646; [1998] 3 SLR 105 (refd) Turnbull v Forman (1885) 15 QBD 234 (folld) Wee Siew Noi v Lee Mun Tuck [1993] 1 SLR (R) 583; [1993] 2 SLR 232 (refd) Yeo Hock Chuan v Wong Chong Weng [1997] 2 SLR (R) 23; [1997] 2 SLR 752 (folld) Interpretation Act (Cap 1, 1999 ......
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