Case Summaries

Brightex Paints (S) Pte Ltd v Tan Ongg Seng (in his personal capacity and trading as Starlit(S) Trading) and others [2019] SGHC 116

SUPREME COURT OF SINGAPORE

3 May 2019

Case summary

HC/SUM 4922/2018
Brightex Paints (S) Pte Ltd v Tan Ongg Seng (in his personal capacity and trading as Starlit(S) Trading) and others [2019] SGHC 116

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Decision of Judicial Commissioner Dedar Singh Gill:

Outcome: First defendant found in breach of disclosure and delivery up orders made against him, sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment for contempt of court.

 

Background

1          This case arose out of an application by the plaintiff for an order of committal against the first defendant for contempt of court.

2          The first defendant is a former employee of the plaintiff. He worked for the plaintiff in two stints (from 1987 to 2002 and from 2012 to 2016). During his second stint, the first defendant served as the plaintiff’s Myanmar production manager, working with the second and third defendants in producing and distributing the plaintiff’s products in Myanmar. In the course of his work, the first defendant gained access to the plaintiff’s confidential and business sensitive information. The first defendant resigned in September 2016. The plaintiff subsequently discovered that he unlawfully accessed, downloaded and copied its confidential information before disseminating the same to the second and third defendants.           

3          On 6 July 2018, the plaintiff obtained judgment against the first defendant pursuant to O 19 r 7 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2014 Rev Ed). The first defendant was required to deliver up and disclose all of the plaintiff’s confidential information in his possession, power, custody or control within seven days of the judgment.

4          The plaintiff subsequently commenced committal proceedings against the first defendant on the basis that the first defendant had failed to comply with the orders against him. Whilst the first defendant had provided several CDs containing relevant documents and correspondence, these CDs did not contain all of the confidential information which had been taken. In response, the first defendant asserted that he had delivered up all of the relevant materials in his possession. He had deleted information that was no longer of use to him before he left the plaintiff’s employ and was unable to deliver materials which he no longer possessed. In respect of the disclosure order, the first defendant claimed that he had not communicated any confidential information to third parties and there was consequently nothing to disclose.

 

The court’s decision

5          The High Court found that the first defendant had breached the delivery up and disclosure orders. It was apparent that there were materials, which the first defendant had conceded to accessing (at [32]), which were not handed over to the plaintiff (at [36]). The first defendant did not take steps to remedy this non-compliance (at [37]–[39]). Having conducted a forensic examination of the first defendant’s computer, the plaintiff was also aware that there had been communications amongst the defendants which were subject to the disclosure order (at [41]). This directly contradicted the first defendant’s assertions. There was also evidence that the first defendant had not deleted all of the plaintiff’s confidential materials before he resigned (at [43]–[44]). He retained these materials in his possession post-resignation and was required to disclose this to the plaintiff. He failed to do so.  

6          In respect of sentencing, the High Court considered that a custodial sentence should be imposed to register the court’s disapproval of the first defendant’s conduct (at [53]). The court took guidance from the non-exhaustive list of sentencing considerations set out by the Court of Appeal in Mok Kah Hong v Zheng Zhuan Yeo [2016] 3 SLR 1. Bearing these considerations in mind, the first defendant had breached these orders deliberately over a period of several months. In the circumstances, a sentence of 14 days’ imprisonment was appropriate.

 

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s grounds of decision. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court. All numbers in bold font and square brackets refer to the corresponding paragraph numbers in the Court’s grounds of decision

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