Png Hock Leng v AXA Insurance Pte Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeBelinda Ang Saw Ean JAD,See Kee Oon J
Judgment Date09 March 2022
CourtHigh Court
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 102 of 2021 (Summons No 6 of 2022)
Png Hock Leng
AXA Insurance Pte Ltd

[2022] SGHC(A) 10

Belinda Ang Saw Ean JAD and See Kee Oon J

Civil Appeal No 102 of 2021 (Summons No 6 of 2022)

Appellate Division of the High Court

Administrative Law — Natural justice — Fair hearing — Recusal — Applicant alleging apparent bias on part of appellate judge because applicant sought to challenge principles established by judge in lower court — Whether there was apparent bias

Held, dismissing the application:

(1) The applicant's case was entirely devoid of factual basis. The “reasons” given by the applicant were in the nature of arguments in light of the absence of material to satisfy the test of apparent bias. There were only unfounded speculation and fear on the applicant's part that the Judge would rule against him because the Judge had an interest in not seeing his decision in Autoexport overturned: at [17] and [18].

(2) A claim of apparent bias on the part of a judge had to be based on facts that were substantially true and accurate. A mere assertion of bias against a judge was not enough; otherwise a party could secure a judge of his choice by merely alleging bias on the part of another or other judges. A judge was not obliged to withdraw based on facts which were inaccurate, false or devoid of substantiation: at [19].

(3) The mere fact that the Judge decided Autoexport, a case which involved the same provisions of the SCA, and set out his views on those provisions could not possibly be any indication of apparent bias. A reasonable observer who was not unduly sensitive or suspicious would not have jumped to the conclusion that the Judge would not be open to reconsider the principles stated in Autoexport upon new arguments and all relevant evidence: at [21] and [31].

(4) There was no basis for the applicant's bizarre submission that the Judge would effectively be sitting in an appeal against his own decision. AD/CA 102 was not an appeal against Autoexport. More accurately, the Judge would simply be hearing an appeal in which the legal principles he had enunciated in a lower court decision was being challenged. This was not novel. The Court of Appeal routinely considered lower court decisions decided by a judge in the High Court (who might well be sitting on the coram for that particular appeal after having been elevated to the Court of Appeal): at [22].

(5) Counsel's submissions made on behalf of the applicant appeared to insinuate that there was some deliberate contrivance to have the Judge on the coram specifically so that he could be a judge in his own cause as it were. Apart from being utterly lacking in any factual basis whatsoever, this insinuation was patently absurd and mischievous: at [23].

(6) The applicant's case was also devoid of any legal merit. The mere fact that a judge had previously ruled or opined extra-judicially on a particular legal principle which was being challenged on appeal did not point towards prejudgment or apparent bias. While litigants might quite naturally surmise that the judge might rule in a particular manner consistent with the judge's previously expressed views, this was not an acceptable basis to infer that the judge had somehow prejudged the matter or would be biased in favour of a particular result, both of which had to be supported by evidential material: at [24].

(7) The quality of impartiality required a judge sitting at the appellate level to reconsider the correctness of the legal principles that the judge himself or herself had enunciated in a lower court with the benefit of new legal arguments by counsel and a view of achieving justice for the parties: at [28].

(8) It was not unusual for judges to reconsider previous rulings on the basis of new arguments and come to a different view: at [29] and [30].

Case(s) referred to

Astro Nusantara International BV v PT Ayunda Prima Mitra [2013] 1 SLR 636 (refd)

Autoexport & EPZ Pte Ltd v TOW77 Pte Ltd [2021] 4 SLR 1201 (refd)

Bainton v Rajski (1992) 29 NSWLR 539 (refd)

Bloomberry Resorts and Hotels Inc v Global Gaming Philippines LLC [2021] 3 SLR 725 (refd)

BOI v BOJ [2018] 2 SLR 1156 (folld)

Chee Siok Chin v AG [2006] 4 SLR(R) 541; [2006] 4 SLR 541 (refd)

Helljay Investments Pty Ltd v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (1999) 166 ALR 302 (refd)

JRL, Re (1986) 66 ALR 239 (refd)

Miao Weiguo v Tendcare Medical Group Holdings Pte Ltd [2022] 1 SLR 884 (refd)

Noor Azlin bte Abdul Rahman v Changi General Hospital Pte Ltd [2021] 2 SLR 440 (refd)

Ong Wui Teck v AG [2020] 1 SLR 855 (refd)

Prometheus Marine Pte Ltd v King, Ann Rita [2018] 1 SLR 1 (refd)

Raman Dhir v MCST Plan No 1374 [2021] 4 SLR 1215 (refd)

Soh Rui Yong v Liew Wei Yen Ashley [2021] SGHC 96 (refd)

Tang Liang Hong v Lee Kuan Yew [1997] 3 SLR(R) 576; [1998] 1 SLR 97 (refd)

TOW v TOV [2017] 3 SLR 725 (refd)

Townsing Henry George v Jenton Overseas Investment Pte Ltd [2007] 2 SLR(R) 597; [2007] 2 SLR 597 (refd)


In AD/SUM 6/2022, the applicant, Png Hock Leng, sought the recusal of Chua Lee Ming J (“the Judge”) from his appeal, AD/CA 102/2021 (“AD/CA 102”).

AD/CA 102 was the applicant's appeal against the High Court judge's decision in HC/RA 162/2021, which affirmed an assistant registrar's decision in HC/OS 171/2021, to dismiss his application to transfer the whole of MC/MC 146/2020 (“MC 146”) from the Magistrate's Court to the General Division of the High Court. In AD/CA 102, the applicant contended that he had the right to transfer MC 146 to the High Court under ss 54B and 54E of the State Courts Act (Cap 321, 2007 Rev Ed) (“SCA”) because his counterclaim exceeded the District Court's limit.

The applicant contended that the Judge should recuse himself from hearing AD/CA 102 because the appeal concerned principles stated in Autoexport & EPZ Pte Ltd v TOW77 Pte Ltd[2021] 4 SLR 1201 (“Autoexport”), a decision of the Judge sitting in the General Division of the High Court. His grounds in his supporting affidavit were that the Judge “has or may have an interest in the principles stated in [Autoexport] being affirmed and/or not being overruled by a superior court”. He submitted that the Judge would be effectively sitting in an appeal against his own decision. Thus, there was an appearance of or apparent bias against his appeal.

Legislation referred to

Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (2020 Rev Ed) Art 97(1)

International Arbitration Act (Cap 143A, 2002 Rev Ed) s 24

State Courts Act (Cap 321, 2007 Rev Ed) ss 54B, 54E

Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1969 (2020 Rev Ed) s 33(3)

Carolyn Tan Beng Hui and Kevin Leong (Tan & Au LLP) for the applicant;

Ang Tze Phern and Shaun Ou Wai Hung (Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP) for the respondent.

9 March 2022

Belinda Ang Saw Ean JAD (delivering the judgment of the court):


1 As noted by the Court of Appeal in Ong Wui Teck v Attorney-General[2020] 1 SLR 855 at [26], the “Oath of Office” taken by every judge, judicial commissioner and senior judge of the Supreme Court of Singapore pursuant to Art 97(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (2020 Rev Ed) emphasises how vital the qualities of judicial independence and impartiality are to the role and function of a judge. Allegations of bias, impropriety and dishonesty have the potential to undermine public confidence in the judiciary and its administration of justice.

2 The Singapore courts have repeatedly cautioned against the making of unfounded allegations of judicial bias. Most recently, in BOI v BOJ[2018] 2 SLR 1156 (“BOI”) at [141], the Court of Appeal stated that:

… we cannot emphasise enough how extremely serious allegations of judicial bias are. Indeed, such allegations can be utilised not only as a weapon of abuse by disgruntled litigants but also waste valuable court time and resources in the process. We would imagine that, by their very nature, such allegations would be rare in the extreme. Should such proceedings arise before the court in the future and be found to be unmeritorious, there may be serious consequences. [emphasis added in italics and bold italics]

Similarly, in Soh Rui Yong v Liew Wei Yen Ashley[2021] SGHC 96 at [48], the High Court held that “allegations of … judicial bias, while necessary when appropriate, are extremely serious and should only be employed with great circumspection and care. Inevitably they occasion costs to clients, public resources and the justice system as a whole”. In Noor Azlin bte Abdul Rahman and another v Changi General Hospital Pte Ltd[2021] 2 SLR 440 (“Noor Azlin”) at [118], the Court of Appeal cautioned again that “allegations of bias against sitting judges in Singapore have the potential to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice and are never to be taken lightly” [emphasis added].

3 The court has to be vigilant in order to guard against the use of unfounded allegations of bias to engage in judge shopping as a procedural strategy. It is important to ensure that litigants do not have the misconceived idea that they may pick their own judges or disrupt proceedings with such...

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