Yeoh Poh San and Another v Won Siok Wan

JudgeBelinda Ang Saw Ean JC
Judgment Date28 August 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] SGHC 196
Citation[2002] SGHC 196
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Plaintiff CounselAndre Arul (Arul Chew & Partners)
Defendant CounselL Kuppanchetti (Alban Tay Mahtani & De Silva)
Published date19 March 2013



1. This was an appeal against the decision of the Asst. Registrar May Loh, refusing a stay of the Respondents’ action against the Appellant. I heard the appeal on 21 May 2002 and affirmed the Asst. Registrar’s decision. The Appellant, being dissatisfied with my decision, filed Notice of Appeal on 12 June 2002.

2. The Appellant, Won Siok Wan ("Won") and the 2nd Respondent, Choo Lee Chin ("Choo") are named account holders of three joint accounts with United Overseas Bank, Main Branch, 80 UOB Plaza, Singapore. Either account holder could operate the accounts in that the bank could act on the sole signature of either account holder.

3. It was common ground that after Won left the home where she and Yeoh lived, Won travelled to Singapore on 11 June 2001 and during that visit withdrew various sums of money from the three joint accounts. All in all she withdrew a total of S$2.5m or thereabouts. A breakdown of withdrawals from the three joint accounts is as follows:

Current account no. 101-311-077-3 S $1,036,000.00

Fixed Deposit account no. 101-462-177-1 S $ 810,596.41

Foreign Currency Account no. 101-074-120-9 US$ 372,122.49

(denominated in US Dollars)

4. Won then deposited the withdrawals into separate bank accounts in her sole name with United Overseas Bank in Singapore.

5. Yeoh Poh San ("Yeoh"), the 1st Respondent and Choo objected to the withdrawals when they learned about what Won had done. Yeoh alleged that Won had misappropriated trust money. Yeoh’s evidence, which is corroborated by Choo, is that the monies in the joint accounts were his savings for his old age. He was the sole contributor of the funds deposited in the three joint accounts. Won and Choo, both held the monies on trust for him. Won and Choo were to share equally the balance of the monies in the joint accounts upon Yeoh’s death.

6. Prior to the withdrawals on 11 June 2002, Won and Choo were Yeoh’s companions. Won, however, claimed that she was more than a companion. She was all along Yeoh’s common law wife, having lived together as man and wife for 20 years from July 1981 to June 2001. I should mention that Yeoh married Choo on 21 August 2001.

7. On 4 January 2002, the Respondents issued proceedings against Won and on 29 January 2002 successfully obtained a mareva injunction freezing Won’s assets in Singapore. Won failed in her application filed on 18 February 2002 to set aside or vary the injunction.

8. On 18 February 2002, Won applied for a stay of the action on the ground of forum non conveniens. It was argued that the action should be stayed for the following reasons:

(i) the Appellant and Respondents are Malaysians and ordinarily resident in Malaysia;

(ii) the main witnesses are resident in Malaysia;

(iii) 1st Respondent has assets in Malaysia;

(iv) the Appellant has assets in Malaysia;

(v) there are issues of Malaysian law before the Singapore court.

9. The principles governing a stay of proceedings on the ground of forum non conveniens are well established. The House of Lords’ decision in Spiliada Maritime Corporation v Consulex [1987] AC 460 was affirmed and applied in Brinkerhoff Maritime Drilling Corp & Anor v PT Airfast Services Indonesia & Anor [1992] 2 SLR 776; Eng Liat Kiang v Eng Bak Hern [1995] 3 SLR 97 and Oriental Insurance Co Ltd v Bhavani Stores Pte Ltd [1998] 1 SLR 253.

10. The Court of Appeal in PT Hutan Domas Raya v Yue Xiu Enterprises (Holdings) Limited & Anor. [2001] 2 SLR 49 at 54 re-affirmed the Spiliada approach:

"….The correct approach which a court should take in such a case is as follows. The first stage is for the court to determine whether prima facie, there is some other available forum, having competent jurisdiction, which is more appropriate for the trial of the action. The legal burden of showing that rests on the defendant. In determining that issue the court will look to see what factors there are which point in the direction of another forum as being the forum with which the action has the most real and substantial connection, e.g. availability of witnesses, the convenience or expenses of having a trial in a particular forum, the law governing the transaction and the places where the parties reside or carry on business. Unless there is clearly another more appropriate available forum, a stay will ordinarily be refused. If the court concludes that there is such a more appropriate forum, it will ordinarily grant a stay unless, in the words of Lord Goff, ‘there are circumstances by reason of which justice requires that a stay should nevertheless not be granted. In this inquiry the court will consider all the circumstances of the case, including circumstances which go beyond those taken into account which considering connecting factors with other jurisdictions’ (hereinafter referred to as ‘the unless question’ or ‘unless proviso’ as may be appropriate in the context). One such factor which would warrant a refusal of stay would be if it can be established by objective cogent evidence that the plaintiff will not obtain justice in the foreign jurisdiction. But the mere fact that the plaintiff has a legitimate personal or juridical advantage in proceedings in Singapore is not decisive; regard must be had to the interests of all the parties and the ends of justice. We would emphasis[e] that in determining the ‘unless question’ all circumstances must be taken into account, including those taken into account in determining the question of the more appropriate forum. However, in this stage of the inquiry the burden shifts to the plaintiff."

11. Chao JA delivering the decision of the Court of Appeal in PT Hutan Domas Raya v Yue Xiu Enterprises (Holdings) Limited said that ultimately the question is "where should the case be suitably tried having regard to the interest of the parties and the ends...

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