SINGAPORE - Singapore's top court did not mince words when it gave its judgment on Dec 20 in the "latest instalment of a spate of litigation" between the Singapore Shooting Association (SSA) and the Singapore Rifle Association (SRA).
The Court of Appeal said that although it allowed the appeal by three key SSA officials against SRA's claim of conspiracy by unlawful means, that did not mean "we endorsed their actions in this case".
The court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, also took issue with the SRA for conducting the lawsuit in several ways that were out of proportion to its case.
Among other things, the SRA filed the conspiracy claim in the High Court where it stood to recover, if successful, at best $63,200 - an amount far below the $250,000 threshold for a High Court claim, the appeal court said.
"Indeed, the conspiracy claim plainly could not sustain this litigation, which took 11 days of hearing, and involved five lawyers in the High Court and six in the Court of Appeal," it added, in criticising the SRA for failing to pursue more cost-efficient alternatives.
It also stressed that even if a lawyer's client were prepared to sue in court and bear the litigation cost, the lawyer, as an officer of the court, owed a higher duty to the court to assess whether it would be in the interests of the administration of justice to pursue the matter.
"In our judgment, the actions of the (SSA) in engendering this dispute and the way the litigation was conducted by SRA reflected appallingly on both parties," CJ Menon wrote on the court's behalf in judgment grounds released on Dec 20.
The SSA is the national sports association for shooting while the SRA is one of its founder members and constituent clubs.
The High Court had found in May last year that SSA president Michael Vaz, secretary -general Yap Beng Hui and treasurer Patrick Chen had "wrongfully conspired to injure" the SRA by passing a resolution to suspend its rights.
The court had declared then the resolution passed by the SSA council via a circular to be null and void.
The trio was ordered to pay damages equivalent to the legal fees and expenses the SRA incurred in investigating and responding to the conspiracy.
The High Court also dismissed the SSA's claim that the SRA reimburse it for the costs of demolishing what the SSA had called "illegal structures" at the SRA's $300,000 range at the National Shooting Centre (NSC).
In addition, it found the SSA has no power to suspend the SRA's privileges at the NSC for failing to comply with its directives.
The NSC is a complex of shooting ranges in Old Choa Chu Kang Road that is used by various shooting clubs and associations in Singapore.
The SSA, represented by lawyers Anthony Lee and Clement Chen, appealed against the High Court decision, while a team of lawyers, led by Mr Wendell Wong, argued for the SRA at the appeal hearing in August.
The appeal court had reserved judgment then.
On Dec 20, it gave the nod to the appeal of the three SSA key council members against SRA's claim of "conspiracy by unlawful means".
It ruled that the legal fees incurred in probing or detecting a conspiracy cannot constitute actionable loss or damages to be claimed, as there was no evidence that the fees the SRA paid to its lawyers were for investigative work on the conspiracy.
In substance, such fees can be recovered as legal costs. In the event that they cannot be recovered as costs, they may be recovered as actionable loss, the court added.
It, however, dismissed the SSA's appeal to be indemnified by the SRA for demolishing the so-called illegal structures at the NSC, noting that the SSA had undermined the SRA's position by not helping it to retain the structures.
The court expressed "strong disapproval of and dismay at SSA's conduct in this case".
And given the disproportionate manner in which the SRA pursued the case as well as the deplorable conduct of both associations, the court ordered each to bear its own costs for the appeal and the High Court hearings.
In addition, the appeal court ruled that further costs orders might be made personally against Mr Vaz to indemnify the SSA, and the SRA's lawyers who may be limited or disallowed from recovering costs from the SRA.
The court will decide after receiving submissions from Mr Vaz