Can an ex-wife refer to letters from her ex-husband which acknowledged debt owing to her sent on a without prejudice basis when seeking to recover the debt owing to her?
HO KAI BUN V SALINA LEE MAY LEE  1 LNS 1232
Ho Kai Bun (“Ex-husband”) and Salina Lee May Lee (“Ex-wife”) were married in 2002.
In 2017, the marriage broke down and the parties appointed their respective solicitors to negotiate and finalise the terms of settlement towards the filing of a divorce petition and a global settlement of all other claims.
The Ex-wife’s lawyer wrote to the Ex-husband’s lawyer, demanding, inter alia, that the Ex-husband repay a loan of SGD85,000 and SGD30,000 he had taken from the Ex-wife (“Loan”).
Ex-husband replied, via his lawyer, on a without prejudice basis, denying the Loan and requested the Ex-wife to provide evidence of the Loan.
Ex-wife, through her lawyer, forwarded to Ex-husband’s lawyer, 2 statements of proof signed by the Ex-husband as proof of the Loan.
In the first statement of proof, the Ex-husband acknowledged having taken a loan of SGD75,000-00 and in the second, a loan of SGD10,000-00. There was no statement of proof in respect of the loan of SGD30,000-00.
On 26 September 2017 and on a without prejudice basis, Ex-husband proposed a settlement of the Loan by making a payment of RM250,000-00 in 5 yearly instalments of RM50,000-00.
In response, Ex-wife was not agreeable to the proposed manner of settlement and counter proposed that the RM250,000-00 be settled by way of payment of RM100,000-00 at the time of execution of the joint divorce petition and the balance of RM150,000-00 to be paid in 3 yearly instalments of RM50,000-00, and that in the event of default, the whole sum would become payable.
On 3 March 2018, Ex-husband lodged a police report alleging that his signature in the statements of proof had been forged.
Ex-husband, through his lawyer, replied on a without prejudice basis, to the Ex-wife to say that he was not agreeable to the Ex-wife’s counter proposal.
A divorce petition was filed at the High Court and order was granted.
On 14 August 2018, the Ex-wife issued proceedings against the Ex-husband to recover the Loan where she also referred to the without prejudice letters.
The Ex-husband pleaded that letters were protected by the without prejudice rule and that the Ex-wife’s claim was statute barred as it was brought after the expiry of the limitation period.
The Sessions Court found in the Ex-wife’s favour and the Ex-husband appealed.
HIGH COURT DECISION – APPEAL ALLOWED!
The High Court allowed the appeal and held, amongst others, that the letters, sent on a without prejudice basis, constitute communication that was part of an attempt to settle the dispute between the Ex-husband and the Ex-wife and was therefore, protected by the without prejudice rule. Furthermore, the action has been commenced more than 6 years after the cause of action arose, and therefore, the Ex-wife’s action was barred by the Limitation Act 1953.