Aged mum 'a pawn in family dispute'

Aged mum 'a pawn in family dispute'
Madam Eileen Chia Yoke Mui, widow of the late Dennis Goh Chin Chye.

SINGAPORE - The High Court has ordered the couple behind a 92-year-old woman's court suit to pay the legal costs for the case she lost.

Justice Quentin Loh held Eric Goh, the son of Madam Eileen Chia, and his wife Penny liable for the $164,955 costs assessed in the rare case, "as it would be just in the circumstances to do so".

Madam Chia, widow of scout pioneer Dennis Goh, had lost a case last year to reverse a partial transfer of the flat that she and her husband had bought to daughters Yvonne, 63, and Yvette, 53.

Had she been successful, all four of her children, including sons Eric, 69, and Evan, 65, would receive an equal share in the flat when she dies.

But the $700,000 five-room flat in Clementi will eventually go to just the two daughters as they remain co-owners with Madam Chia.

Mr Dennis Goh, an Anglo-Chinese School physical education teacher, died in March last year aged 94, after the suit had been filed in 2012.

Lawyers Alfred Dodwell and Ivan Tay argued that Mr Eric Goh and his wife should be the first to bear the costs as they were behind the suit. They declined to include Mr Evan Goh as he was the "more passive participant".

In a decision last week, Justice Loh held that the couple were closely linked to the case as "they not only funded but also controlled the proceedings".

They did so with the aim of benefiting if Madam Chia won and they paid the legal fees and deposit for proceedings, he added.

The couple, defended by lawyers Gregory Vijeyandran and Lester Chua, argued that there was no "credible evidence" to show they were closely connected and claimed they had not funded the case as Madam Chia was supposed to repay them later.

They added that even if Madam Chia and her husband were pressured into starting the suit in 2012 - which they denied - they were only helping Madam Chia, given her age. The elderly woman remained in control, they added.

The judge rejected their defence, finding their claims flawed. "Eric's wife, Penny, who was legally trained, also played an active role supporting her husband in this litigation," he noted.

The judge contrasted the lack of familiarity and involvement about the case shown by Madam Chia and the "unusually high" level of interest and involvement by Mr Eric Goh and his wife.

He noted it was Mr Eric Goh, not Madam Chia or her husband, who signed the warrant to appoint lawyers to act on her behalf.

"I do not think that much weight should be accorded to Eric's self-serving evidence that he has 'nothing to gain' from the proceedings and that he was 'not really interested' in the Clementi flat." He said it would be "most unjust to allow the (couple) to say that (Madam Chia and her late husband) should bear the costs as they are not insolvent, after having used them as pawns in the proceedings."

Justice Loh said it made "no difference" to the decision that the couple were prepared to pay the costs in the event that Madam Chia did not do so.

He exonerated her lawyer Suchitra Ragupathy from being personally liable for the costs. Madam Chia's appeal against Justice Loh's decision in the main case is due to be heard next month.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

This article was published on June 14 in The Straits Times.

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