DATO’ TAN HENG CHEW v. TAN KIM HOR & ANOTHER APPEAL

 

 

[2006] 1 CLJ 577    

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DATO’ TAN HENG CHEW v. TAN KIM HOR & ANOTHER APPEAL
FEDERAL COURT, PUTRAJAYA
[CIVIL APPEAL NOS: 02-6-2005(W) & 02-8-2005(W)]
SITI NORMA YAAKOB, CJ (MALAYA) ; STEVE SHIM, CJ (SABAH & SARAWAK) ; ABDUL HAMID MOHAMAD, FCJ
4 JANUARY 2006

CIVIL PROCEDURE: Judicial precedent – Stare decisis – Whether Court of Appeal may disagree with judgements of Federal Court

CIVIL PROCEDURE: Judge – Judge to recuse himself – Whether “real danger of bias” needs to be shown – Whether test is objective or subjective in nature

As a result of a family feud between the respondent’s family and the appellant’s family, the respondent filed a petition to wind-up Tan Chong Consolidated Sdn. Bhd. on just and equitable grounds. The appellant’s family filed an application to strike out the petition. The learned High Court judge struck out the petition. In granting the order, the learned judge in her judgement made several findings regarding the respondent. While the winding-up proceedings were going on, the respondent filed this suit claiming, inter alia, certain declarations that his non-appointment as director of the 1st to 4th defendants was wrongful and unjustified. There was also a pending contempt proceeding against the respondent in this action. The respondent then filed a summons seeking the recusal of the learned judge.

The learned judge dismissed the application for her recusal but her order was reversed by the Court of Appeal. The Federal Court granted the appellants leave to appeal on the following question of law: “Whether the new test for recusal formulated by the Court of Appeal in these words: “would a right thinking member of the public armed with the facts before us come to the conclusion that the appellant would receive justice at the end of the trial before the same judge?” is the correct test, given that it is totally inconsistent with the “real danger of bias” test formulated by the Federal Court and the Court of Appeal in various cases including Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang v. SyarikatBekerjasama-sama Serbaguna Sungai Gelugor Dengan Tanggungan and Mohd Ezam Mohd. Nor & Ors v. Ketua Polis Negara.”

The learned judge had examined the real suspicion of bias test the real likelihood of bias test and the real danger of bias test and had concluded that the correct test to be applied in this case was the “real danger of bias” test, as approved by the Federal Court in Ezam‘s case. The Court of Appeal was of the view that the learned judge had asked herself the wrong question when she applied the “real danger of bias” test.

Held (dismissing the appeals)

Per Steve Shim CJ (Sabah & Sarawak):

(1) The Court of Appeal is bound by the doctrine of stare decisis to follow the “real danger of bias” test for recusal adopted by the Federal Court in Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (supra) and Mohamed Ezam Mohd Nor (supra). The doctrine of stare decisis has become the cornerstone of the common law system practised in this country. It is fundamental to its existence and to the rule of law. It has attained the status of immutability. (para 2)

(2) Judicial hierarchy must be observed in the interests of finality and certainty in the law and for orderly development of legal rules as well as for the courts and lawyers to regulate their affairs. Failure to observe judicial precedents would create chaos and misapprehensions in the judicial system. (para 3)

Per Abdul Hamid Mohamad FCJ

(1) The judgements in Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (supra), Allied Capital Sdn Bhd v. Mohamed Latiff Shah Mohd and Another Application, and Mohd Ezam Mohd. Nor (supra) being judgments of the Federal Court, are binding on the Court of Appeal. Whether the Court of Appeal agrees with them or not, it is incumbent upon it to apply the test. However, if the court thinks that it has good reasons for disagreeing with the judgments, it may, while following them, point out why they should be reviewed by the Federal Court. But the review, if it were to be done, should be done by the Federal Court. Until it is actually done by the Federal Court, they remain binding on the Court of Appeal. So, the Court of Appeal was wrong in not applying the “real danger of bias” test. (para 20)

(2) The “old test” would not lead to an injustice nor would “the new” test lead to more justice. What is more important is the integrity and honesty of the judges themselves. (para 22)

(3) The doctrine of stare decisis requires the Court of Appeal to follow the “real danger of bias” test adopted by the Federal Court in Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (supra) and Mohamed Ezam Mohd. Nor (supra). There is no reason why the test should be changed or modified. The learned judge had not committed an error in applying the “real danger of bias” test. (paras 23 & 24)

(4) The learned judge said she would not be biased. But, viewed objectively, the question was whether, in the circumstances of the case, there was a real danger of bias on her part, even though unintentionally. The Court of Appeal and the Federal Court were in a better position to assess since the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court were not directly involved in it. So, if on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Federal Court found that there was a real danger of bias, even though the trial judge felt that she was not inclined to, in the interest of justice, she should be advised to recuse herself. (para 25)

(5) Considering all the circumstances of the case, objectively viewed, there was a real danger of bias on the part of the learned judge if she were to continue to try the suit. In this situation, if the court were to err, it would be better to err on the side of recusal in order to maintain the highest standard of public confidence in the judiciary. But, each case is to be decided on its own facts and the court should be vigilant not to allow parties to do “judge-shopping” by recusal of judges. So, even though the Court of Appeal was wrong in not applying the “real danger of bias” test, applying the same test to the facts of this case, the conclusion was the same as that of the Court of Appeal. (paras 31 & 32)

Bahasa Malaysia translation of headnotes

Ekoran pertelingkahan keluarga yang berlaku di antara keluarga responden dan keluarga perayu, responden memfailkan petisyen bagi menggulung Tan Chong Consolidated Sdn Bhd atas alasan berbuat demikian adalah munasabah dan adil. Keluarga perayu memfail permohonan untuk mengenepikan petisyen dan petisyen diketepikan oleh yang arif hakim Mahkamah Tinggi. Dalam memberikan perintah, yang arif hakim, dalam penghakimannya, membuat beberapa dapatan mengenai responden. Sementara itu, ketika prosiding penggulungan di sini masih berjalan, responden memfail tuntutan semasa antara lain bagi menuntut pengisytiharan bahawa kegagalan melantik dirinya sebagai pengarah defendan-defendan pertama hingga keempat adalah tidak wajar dan salah. Selain itu, terdapat juga suatu prosiding menghina mahkamah terhadap responden di dalam guaman ini. Berikutnya responden memfail saman bagi penarikan diri yang arif hakim.

Yang arif hakim menolak permohonan untuk penarikan dirinya, tetapi perintah tersebut telah diakas oleh Mahkamah Rayuan. Mahkamah Persekutuan membenarkan perayu merayu atas persoalan undang-undang berikut, iaitu: “sama ada ujian baru penarikan diri yang dipakai oleh Mahkamah Rayuan yang digubal dengan kata-kata berikut, iaitu: “adakah seorang ahli masyarakat yang berfikiran waras, berdepan dengan fakta yang wujud, akan mencapai rumusan bahawa perayu akan mendapat keadilan di akhir perbicaraan di hadapan hakim yang sama?” merupakan ujian yang betul, memandangkan bahawa ia adalah tidak konsisten dengan ujian “real danger of bias” seperti yang digubal oleh Mahkamah Persekutuan dan Mahkamah Rayuan dalam kes-kes seperti Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang v. Syarikat Bekerjasama-sama Serbaguna Sungai Gelugor Dengan Tanggungan dan Mohd Ezam Mohd. Nor v. Ketua Polis Negara.”

Yang arif hakim telah meneliti ujian-ujian “real suspicion of bias”, “real likelihood of bias” dan “real danger of bias” dan merumuskan bahawa ujian yang betul untuk dipakai adalah ujian “real danger of bias” sepertimana ianya digunapakai oleh Mahkamah Persekutuan di dalam kes Ezam (supra). Mahkamah Rayuan berpendapat bahawa yang arif hakim telah bertanyakan dirinya soalan yang salah apabila beliau memakai ujian “real danger of bias”.

Diputuskan (menolak rayuan-rayuan tersebut)

Oleh Steve Shim KH (Sabah & Sarawak):

(1) Mahkamah Rayuan terikat dengan doktrin stare decisis dan harus menuruti ujian “real danger of bias” bagi kes-kes pengunduran diri seperti yang diputuskan oleh Mahkamah Persekutuan di dalam Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (supra) dan Mohamed Ezam Mohd Nor (supra). Doktrin stare decisis telah menjadi batu penjuru bagi sistem common law yang digunapakai di negara ini. Ia teramat penting bagi kewujudannya serta kewujudan rule of law. Ia malah telah mencapai status tidak boleh ditukar ganti.

(2) Hirarki kehakiman harus dihormati demi memastikan kemuktamadan dan ketentuan undang-undang dan bagi mencapai perkembangan kaedah-kaedah perundangan yang tersusun serta memudahkan penyeliaan urusan oleh mahkamah dan peguam-peguam. Kegagalan menghormati teladan duluan akan menyebabkan sistem kehakiman menjadi kucar kacir dan tidak menentu.

Oleh Abdul Hamid Mohamad HMP:

(1) Keputusan dalam Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (supra), Allied Capital Sdn Bhd v. Mohamed Latiff Shah Mohd and Another Application, dan Mohd Ezam bin Mohd. Nor (supra), sebagai keputusan Mahkamah Persekutuan, adalah mengikat Mahkamah Rayuan. Sama ada Mahkamah Rayuan bersetuju dengannya ataupun tidak, ia wajib menggunapakai ujian tersebut. Bagaimanapun, jika mahkamah itu merasakan wujud alasan-alasan kukuh untuk tidak bersetuju dengan penghakiman berkenaan, ia boleh, dalam pada menuruti penghakiman tersebut, menyatakan mengapa ianya patut disemak oleh Mahkamah Persekutuan. Apapun, semakan, jikapun dibuat, hanya boleh dibuat oleh Mahkamah Persekututan. Sebelum semakan sedemikian dibuat, ia mengikat Mahkamah Rayuan. Oleh itu, Mahkamah Rayuan khilaf apabila tidak memakai ujian “real danger of bias”.

(2) Ujian “yang lama” tidak akan membawa kepada ketidakadilan dan begitu juga ujian “yang baru” tidak akan membawa kepada keadilan yang lebih mantap. Yang penting adalah integriti dan kejujuran hakim-hakim itu sendiri.

(3) Doktrin stare decisis mengkehendaki Mahkamah Rayuan supaya mengikuti ujian “real danger of bias” seperti yang diterimapakai oleh Mahkamah Persekutuan di dalam Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (supra) dan Mohamed Ezam Mohd. Nor (supra). Tidak ada sebab mengapa ujian tersebut harus ditukar atau diubahsuai. Yang arif hakim tidak melakukan sebarang kekhilafan apabila menggunapakai ujian “real danger of bias”.

(4) Yang arif hakim menyatakan bahawa beliau tidak akan bersikap berat sebelah. Tetapi, dipandang secara objektif, persoalannya adalah sama ada, dalam halkeadaan kes, terdapat “real danger of bias” pada dirinya, walaupun tanpa disengajakan. Mahkamah Rayuan dan Mahkamah Persekutuan berada dalam kedudukan yang lebih baik untuk menilai kerana mahkamah-mahkamah tersebut tidak terlibat secara langsung dengannya. Oleh itu, sekiranya berdasarkan fakta dan keadaan kes, Mahkamah Persekutuan berpendapat bahawa wujud “real danger of bias”, hakim bicara, walaupun merasa bahawa beliau tidak cenderung ke arah itu, harus mengundurkan diri atas nama keadilan.

(5) Mengambilkira semua halkeadaan kes, dan dipandang secara objektif, terdapat “real danger of bias” di pihak yang arif hakim sekiranya beliau meneruskan dengan perbicaraan guaman. Dalam kes ini, sekiranyapun mahkamah harus membuat khilaf, adalah lebih baik jika ia terkhilaf di pihak penarikan diri demi menjaga dan mempastikan bahawa keyakinan mantap masyarakat terhadap institusi kehakiman tidak tergugat. Walau bagaimanapun, setiap kes hendaklah diputuskan mengikut faktanya sendiri dan mahkamah harus sentiasa berhati-hati agar tidak mendorong pihak-pihak terlibat dalam “urusan beli-belah hakim” melalui pengunduran diri hakim-hakim. Jadi, walaupun Mahkamah Rayuan khilaf kerana tidak menggunapakai ujian “real danger of bias”, dengan melaksanakan ujian yang sama kepada kes di sini, keputusannya masih tetap sama seperti yang diputuskan oleh Mahkamah Rayuan.

Case(s) referred to:

Alkaff v. Governor-in-Council & Ors [1937] 1 LNS 3 ; [1932] MLJ Rep 202 (refd)

Allied Capital Sdn Bhd v. Mohamed Latiff Shah Mohd & Another Application [2001] 2 CLJ 253 FC (refd)

Cocabail (UK) Ltd v. Bayfield Properties Ltd [2000] 1 WLR 870 (refd)

Hock Hua Bank (Sabah) Bhd v. Yong Liuk Thin & Ors [1995] 2 CLJ 900 CA (refd)

Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang v. Syarikat Bekerjasama-sama Serbaguna Sungai Gelugor Dengan Tanggungan [1999] 3 CLJ 65 FC (refd)

Mohamed Ezam Mohd Nor & Ors v. Ketua Polis Negara [2001] 4 CLJ 701 FC (refd)

Periasamy Sinnapan & Anor v. PP [1996] 3 CLJ 187 ; [1996] 2 MLJ 557 (refd)

Porter & Anor v. Magill [2002] 1 All ER 465 (refd)

PP v. Datuk Tan Cheng Swee & Anor [1980] 1 LNS 58 ; [1980] 2 MLJ 277 (refd)

PP v. Lau Tuck Weng [1988] 1 LNS 79 ; [1988] 3 MLJ 217 (refd)

R v. Gough [1993] All ER 724 (refd)

Webb v. The Queen [1994] 68 ALJR 582 (refd)

Legislation referred to:

Rules of the High Court 1980, O. 18 r. 19

Counsel:

(Civil Appeal No: 02-6-2005(W))

For the appellant – Lim Kian Leong (Sia Siew Mun, Wong Yoke Peng, Tan Shin Shin & Rohana Ngah with him); M/s Lim Kian Leong & Co.

For the respondent – Cecil Abraham (Shafee Abdullah, Yee Mei Ken & Sunil Abraham with him); M/s Shearn Delamore & Co.

(Civil Appeal No: 02-8-2005(W))

For the appellants – Wong Chong Waah (Wong Chee Lin with him); M/s Skrine & Co.

For the respondent – Cecil Abraham (Shafee Abdullah, Yee Mei Ken & Sunil Abraham with him); M/s Shearn Delamore & Co.

Reported by Amutha Suppayah

[Dismissed the appeal.]

Case History:

Court Of Appeal: [2003] 1 CLJ 634

High Court: [2004] 6 CLJ 338

High Court: [2004] 3 CLJ 401

High Court: [2003] 1 CLJ 472

High Court: [2001] 8 CLJ 736

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