The Opposed Ex Parte Hearing: Contradiction in Terms?

This will be the first in a series of articles I will touch on issues relating to general ex parte hearings, ad interim orders, inter partes hearings and the tactical considerations relating to these matters.

Introduction

The Latin term ex parte means “for one party” and in legal proceedings, an ex parte application is heard by the Judge only in the presence of one party. Due to the extraordinary situation of a Judge only hearing from one party, an ex parte application is normally only allowed in circumstances of urgency, and where if notice is given to the other side, it may alert that party to dissipate assets or to frustrate any possible injunctive relief that may be granted. So it is common to see ex parte applications for a Mareva or freezing injunction, or for other types of urgent injunctions.

To safeguard against any possible abuse of the ex parte process, both the common law and the procedural rules require a full and frank disclosure of material facts, as well as for the applicant to not only make submissions in support of the application but to also highlight potential arguments against the grant of the application.

The Pickwick opposed ex parte procedure

A modern practice that has evolved is for the applicant to file an ex parte application but to give notice to the other side prior to the ex parte hearing. The opposing respondent may then choose to appear at the ex parte hearing and where the hearing may then proceed on an opposed ex parte basis, in that the Court will hear submissions from both parties. This in itself may already sound like a contradiction in terms for both parties to be present at the ex parte hearing. Nonetheless, the utility of this has been highlighted in the leading English High Court case of Pickwick International Inc (GB) Ltd v Multiple Sound Distributors Ltd and another [1972]3 All ER 384.

Megarry J in that cases highlighted that the Court would be greatly assisted in deciding whether or not to grant the ex parte injunction by knowing what contentions may be advanced against the grant of the application. The Court would also be aware of the general line of evidence in opposition to the application when it moves into the formal inter partes stage. It makes it possible for the real points of contention to emerge more quickly and thus saves Court’s time. Megarry J points to one advantage to the applicant is that the Court, having heard what there is to be said in opposition to the grant of the injunction, may sometimes be encouraged to grant an injunction that otherwise would be refused. I am not entirely convinced as to how true this so-called advantage is. I would imagine that the Court may then get a fuller picture as to how weak the injunction application may be, having heard the submissions from the opposing party.

Megarry J also pointed to potential disadvantages to each side when parties engage in an opposed ex parte hearing. The opposing party may go to the trouble of preparing submissions at short notice in which a truly ex parte application would have failed in any event. For the applicant, this more modern Pickwick procedure carries the risk that if his application fails he may be ordered to pay the costs of the party who has successfully opposed the application. The Court has jurisdiction to make an order for costs against the applicant in such cases, whether in the cause or in any event. It was held that it cannot be right that the applicant should issue an express or tacit invitation to be present to the party whom he is seeking to enjoin, and then deny him any claim to the costs of what has proved to be a successful opposition.

In Malaysia

The opposed ex parte procedure has been referred to approvingly here in Malaysia. The Singapore High Court decision in Castle Fitness Consultancy Pte Ltd v Manz [1990] 1 MLJ 141 was one of the first cases referring to the Pickwick procedure approvingly and it was the Court’s view that such a procedure should be adopted. An example of an opposed ex parte hearing is also seen in the High Court case of Azman & Tay Associates Sdn Bhd v Sentul Raya Sdn Bhd [2002] 4 MLJ 390.

The one advantage in the Malaysian context of an applicant giving notice of the ex parte hearing and then anticipating the opposed ex parte hearing is in the situation where the applicant expects the Court, or a particular Judge, to be reluctant to proceed with the ex parte application without notice having been provided to the other side. An example of this is the strict approach taken by Mohd Hishamudin JCA in his dissenting judgment in the Court of Appeal case of Westform Far East Sdn Bhd v Connaught Heights Sdn Bhd and other appeals [2010] 3 MLJ 459. This appeal involved the grant of an ex parte injunction to prevent the presentation of a winding up Petition and there was no notice provided to the opposing party. His Lordship felt that there was no urgency justifying proceeding on an ex parte basis and that notice should have been given. His Lordship referred approvingly to his earlier High Court decision in University of Malaya Medical Centre v Choo Chee Kon & Anor [2008] 3 MLJ 278.

Coming Soon

This discussion on the opposed ex parte procedure is predicated on the applicant having the choice to proceed ex parte, or to give notice and then head to an opposed ex parte hearing or to file an inter partes application. In my next article,I will touch on two applications where the applicant must follow the procedural rules and must file the application on an ex parte basis. The Rules of Court 2012 provide that both the leave applications for judicial review and committal must be filed ex parte. So is there discretion on the Court to allow for the application to be heard inter partes or an opposed ex parte basis?

Edit: I have now written about the ex parte leave for committal application.

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