High Court cuts short neighbours' tree dispute

Ms Shi's neighbours - a couple with a young daughter - were worried about the dangers of dead branches falling from the old raintree in the posh Astrid Hill district.
Ms Shi's neighbours - a couple with a young daughter - were worried about the dangers of dead branches falling from the old raintree in the posh Astrid Hill district.PHOTO: DANIEL NEO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Judge rejects woman's plea to appeal against lower court's order to trim the tree's branches

The High Court has put a stop to a dispute between affluent neighbours over an old raintree in the posh Astrid Hill district.

"There is no one who wins when neighbours go to war. There is therefore no merit in letting this case incur any more court time when cases with greater social issues are waiting in line," said Justice Choo Han Teck.

The judge said this in a written judgment, published yesterday, as he rejected Ms Shi Ka Yee's request for permission to appeal against a lower court decision ordering her to pay $9,800 in damages to her neighbour and trim the tree's branches.

Ms Shi was sued by Mr Nasrat Lucas Muzayyin and his wife Priscilla Goh, following a conflict over the overhanging branches of the tree on Ms Shi's property.

The couple, who moved into Astrid Hill in 2014 with their young daughter, worried about the dangers of dead branches falling from Ms Shi's tree, which extended into their front yard. Attempts to seek her consent for the overhanging branches to be pruned fell through.

On the morning of Feb 17 last year, workers hired by the couple arrived in a truck with a cherry picker and started work.

Ms Shi drove to the Muzayyins' front gate and blasted the horn of her Porsche before she went into their house and swore at the family. She then took the keys from the truck's ignition, leaving a worker stranded in the cherry picker.

The couple sued her for nuisance, trespass and assault. Last month, District Judge Chiah Kok Khun ruled in favour of the couple. He ordered Ms Shi to trim the branches by June 28, but granted a temporary stay pending her application to the High Court for permission to appeal.

Her lawyer, Senior Counsel Francis Xavier, argued that the tree was protected by law and she cannot be blamed for refusing consent. But the couple's lawyer, Mr Christopher De Souza, argued that the law allows protected trees to be cut if its condition posed an immediate threat to life or property.

Justice Choo found that Ms Shi had not proved that the tree was protected; even if it was, the law must be interpreted sensibly as it is "common knowledge that trees need trimming". This dispute should not have involved so many lawyers and so much time in court, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2016, with the headline 'High Court cuts short neighbours' tree dispute'. Print Edition | Subscribe