Ex Parte Leave for Committal: Some Tactical Considerations

In an earlier post, I had written about the opposed ex parte hearing and whether it was a contradiction in terms to have the opposing party present at an ex parte hearing.

As a continuation of my earlier article, I now want to deal with a particular type of ex parte hearing. This is an application for leave for committal. In summary, while leave for committal is expressed that it must be ex parte, the Court does have discretion in allowing the alleged contemnor’s Counsel to still appear at the leave hearing. Further, since it is ex parte, there are tactical considerations on the requirement to make full and frank disclosure.

Jail

Leave for Committal

In an application for leave for committal, Order 52 rule 3(2) of the Rules of Court 2012 provides that such an application “must be made ex parte to the Court.” Nonetheless, in the High Court case of Dato’ Oon Ah Baa & Ors v Eagle & Pagoda Brand Teck Aun Medical Factory Sdn Bhd & Ors [2003] 7 CLJ 81, VT Singham J allowed the defendants’ Counsel to address the Court at the ex parte leave stage.

The Court was of the view that although the application for leave was made ex parte, there was nothing irregular for the defendants’ counsel to be present in court where the defendants had become aware of the application and if necessary, to assist the Court if called upon even in an ex parte application. The ex parte application was not converted into an inter partes hearing when the defendants’ counsel was granted permission to address the Court. This was essentially an opposed ex parte hearing.

In this case, the defendants’ had also filed an affidavit to oppose the ex parte leave application. The Court noted that there was no direction by the court nor was there any permission obtained to file such an affidavit to oppose the leave application. The Court was of the view that if the alleged contemnor is allowed to reply or contest the application (presumably, through the filing of affidavits in reply), it would open the floodgates and defeat the whole exercise of an ex parte application.

Practical and Tactical Considerations

I do observe that in some cases, once the alleged contemnor is aware of the leave application, the alleged contemnor’s solicitors may still file the affidavit in reply to attempt to oppose the leave application on the merits. This is a tactical option to consider since the affidavit may then already be read by the Judge before the Judge decides on whether or not to admit that affidavit for the purposes of the leave application.

I have also been in the situation where I have become aware of the pending ex parte leave and I insist on wanting to be present. In this day and age of e-filing in the Courts system, one can easily conduct a file search to pre-empt any committal application and to have sight of the filed Court papers. I would normally then put the applicant’s solicitors on notice that I insist to be present at the ex parte hearing and that I will be requesting the Court to treat it as an opposed ex parte hearing.

To prepare for the possibility where I am not allowed to submit or oppose the leave hearing, I may also set out, briefly, my main arguments in that letter to the applicant’s solicitors as to why there is no prima facie case for committal. I then insist that my letter be disclosed to the Court at the ex parte hearing and that I reserve my rights to set aside any ex parte leave Order on the grounds of failure to make full and frank disclosure.

Full and Frank Disclosure at the Ex Parte Leave Stage

It is clear that the usual strict obligations at an ex parte hearing equally apply to an ex parte leave for committal hearing. In the Court of Appeal decision of Tan Sri G Darshan Singh v Tetuan Azam Lim & Pang [2013] 5 MLJ 541 (see the original Grounds of Judgment here), the Court of Appeal upheld the setting aside of the ex parte leave for failure to make full and frank disclosure. Abdul Wahab Patail JCA emphasised the importance of setting out all the facts fairly:

It must also be borne in mind that the application for leave to commence proceedings is made ex parte. To enable the court to make a fair and just decision, it must necessarily have all the relevant facts before it. In an ex parte application, it means the applicant must set out the facts fairly, including the facts that are likely to be raised by the proposed alleged contemner in objecting to the application if it were an interparte application. If any fact is likely disputed by the other party, the applicant must say so and give his reasons why such dispute is not sustainable, or is irrelevant or immaterial. There is no reason not to be able to do so for after all only the applicant has the opportunity to be heard upon it in the ex parte application. It certainly does not mean the applicant is entitled to merely state the facts favouring his application and the court must rely on that alone. Otherwise the leave procedure would cease to be a safeguard and instead easily becomes a tool exploited for oppression.
My view is that this obligation is even more important due to the quasi-criminal nature of committal proceedings. Courts should exercise its discretion to allow for an opposed ex parte hearing in order for the Court to be appraised of at least the prima facie facts in deciding whether leave is to be granted.

The Order granting leave for committal can be grave as it would be deemed that there is already a prima facie case for contempt. The alleged contemnor would need to then first purge his contempt and deal with the committal application, before the alleged contemnor can move his own Court applications (see the Federal Court decision of Shamala Sathiyaseelan v Dr Jeyaganesh C. Mogarajah & Anor [2011] 1 CLJ 568 and the Supreme Court decision of Wee Choo Keong v MBf Holdings Bhd & Anor and another appeal [1993] 2 MLJ 217).

In my next post in this series of ex parte applications, I will deal with the considerations of the ex parte leave for judicial review.

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