'Not all cases need written grounds for judgment'

Apex court rejects woman's bid to get reason for High Court refusing her discovery appeal

A woman's bid to have written grounds issued for an interim judgment in her lawsuit was dismissed by the apex court, which said the court did not have a duty to issue written judgments in every case.

"There is no duty to provide reasons, let alone written judgments in all cases," wrote Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, citing routine pre-trial applications such as Ms Jeanne-Marie Ten's as prime examples where the general duty to provide reasons does not apply.

Ms Ten, 44, had sued the National University of Singapore (NUS), alleging it had wrongfully terminated her candidature for the degree of Master of Arts in Architecture in 2006, a claim NUS is contesting.

In pursuit of her case, she had applied to the High Court for access to certain documents between NUS and MOE - known as a discovery application - to support her case.

An assistant registrar (AR) ruled in 2013 that most of the documents she sought were unnecessary or irrelevant, while others were privileged. She then appealed last year to a High Court judge, who dismissed her move and refused her leave to appeal further.

So she filed a fresh suit seeking a court order for the judge to issue the grounds on why he had refused her discovery appeal. When the judge dismissed her suit, she appealed to the apex court - the first reported case of a litigant seeking a court order for written judgment grounds to be issued.

Drew & Napier lawyer Chia Voon Jiet defending NUS opposed her, arguing that Ms Ten was using the appeal to seek a complete rehearing of the discovery application, among other things.

The Court of Appeal, comprising Judges of Appeal Chao and Andrew Phang and Justice Quentin Loh, ruled the answer to her appeal must be "an emphatic 'no'".

It said Ms Ten's application involved neither complex nor novel concepts and, as such, the duty to provide reasons did not apply here.

Justice Chao said the "operative concern" was whether she had been apprised of the reasons for which her discovery application had failed. The court noted that the assistant registrar had gone through each category of the documents she sought, detailing his reasons before dismissing her application.

Her dissatisfaction related to the merits of the proceedings - "not that she did not know why the judge had ruled the way he did".

The court said she should have focused her efforts on the main case instead of this side issue. She was ordered to pay $6,000 costs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline ''Not all cases need written grounds for judgment''. Print Edition | Subscribe