Case Summaries

Kay Swee Pin v Singapore Island Country Club & Ors

11 June 2010

Media Summary

Suit No 973 of 2008/Y
Kay Swee Pin v Singapore Island Country Club & Ors

Decision of the High Court (Belinda Ang Saw Ean J)


1     The plaintiff, Kay Swee Pin (“KSP”), was a principal member of the first defendant, Singapore Island Country Club (“SICC”). KSP sued SICC and the second to thirteen defendants (collectively, “D2” to “D13”), as members of the General Committee of SICC (“the GC”), for libel. The subject matter of this libel action was a notice suspending KSP’s club membership for the period from 19 May 2006 to 18 May 2007 (“the Notice”) which was, by order of the GC, posted for a year on the notice boards of SICC’s Bukit and Island clubhouses. The material part of the Notice stated that: [KSP] [a]cted in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the Club and its members in that, she had falsely declared Mr Ng Kong Yeam as her spouse to make use of the Club Facilities since September 1992, when the marriage certificate submitted by her on Saturday, 10 September 2005 showed that her marriage to Mr Ng Kong Yeam [“NKY”] was only registered on 24 August 2005 in Las Vegas, State of Nevada.

2     In claiming that the Notice was libellous, KSP argued that the natural and ordinary meanings of the words used in the Notice meant and were understood to mean the following:

  1. KSP acted in a manner prejudicial to the interests of SICC and its members (“meaning (1)”);
  2. KSP made a declaration that was false (“meaning (2)”);
  3. KSP was a dishonest person (“meaning (3)”);
  4. (d) KSP was a cheat (“meaning (4)”); and
  5. (e) KSP committed fraud (“meaning (5)”).

3     To vindicate her reputation, KSP sought substantial damages for defamation from the defendants arising out of the fact that (a) the Notice was removed only on 19 May 2007, one year after it was put up; (b) SICC refused to remove the Notice despite KSP’s repeated requests that it be removed during the period of her suspension; and (c) the subject matter of the Notice was referred to in an announcement published in the June 2006 issue of “Islander”, a monthly publication of SICC.

The Decision

4     The High Court held that the impugned words in the Notice were capable of bearing meanings (1) to (3) (a point which was conceded by the defendants) as well as meaning (4) in so far as it alleged dishonest conduct. Based on the Notice, the Court found that the hypothetical reasonable reader would understand that, in effect, KSP had inexcusably made a false declaration and her conduct could fairly be described as cheating and was dishonest. With regard to meaning (5), the Court held that it was a product of an over-elaborate analysis of the words complained of because a hypothetical reasonable reader would not have understood the words to allege fraud or to allege that KSP had committed fraud in making the false declaration.

5     In the light of the above findings, the Court held that the Notice was libellous. The imputation of KSP’s dishonest conduct in connection with NKY’s use of the Club’s facilities for 13 years as a spousal member before KSP’s marriage to NKY was registered on 24 August 2005 was defamatory as it was enough to induce an ill opinion of KSP in the mind of the hypothetical reasonable reader of the Notice and to cause KSP to be shunned or avoided as a result of these words.

6     However, the Court held that the defence of justification was available to the defendants. The Court found that at the time KSP applied to be a member of SICC in 1992, she was not married to NKY and she knew that as a fact. The declaration of NYK as her spouse in the application form was deliberate and false. It was contrary to the undertaking which she gave in the application form that all information provided therein was true. She could have filled up the form without naming NKY as her spouse, but she did not – instead, she knowingly made the declaration that NKY was her spouse and submitted the form with the false information to SICC. Her dishonest conduct was in declaring NKY as her spouse after having assessed the risk of telling a lie in the application form, and in choosing to chance it in the knowledge of the game plan that she was going to take towards SICC’s reaction as discussed with her sister. As it turned out, there was no immediate query from SICC – the lie was, however, found out 13 years later. Therefore, the sting of the Notice – the imputation of KSP’s dishonest conduct – was substantially true, and the defence of justification was made out.

7     For completeness, the Court also considered the defendants’ defence of qualified privilege and held that such a defence would have been available to them.

8     The Court dismissed KSP’s libel action with costs.

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court.