The following is a press release by J B Jeyaretnam, Secretry-General of the Worker's Party and a Member of Parliament who has been declared a bankrupt by the Singapore courts.
Appeal against Bankruptcy Order made against me on the 19th January 2001.
My appeal came up for hearing this morning before Justice Tan Lee Meng in the High Court. The Judge has dismissed my appeal, confirming the Order of the Assistant Registrar adjudicating me a bankrupt.
The Judge's argument was that I was bound by the Order made on the 3rd November 2000 consenting to be made a bankrupt if I did not pay the installments on time as agreed between the parties.
I argued my own appeal and pointed out to him that the court should examine whether my consent was given in circumstances which suggested or showed that the consent was forced out of me. The creditors had all along refused to accept any payment by installments and then, at the eleventh hour, agreed to accept payment by installments but insisted on a term that I should consent to a bankruptcy order if I failed to pay any installment on time.
I pointed out to the Judge, Section 7 of the Bankruptcy Act which states, "The court may review, rescind or vary any order made by it under its bankruptcy jurisdiction". I said by that Section, the Act had given the court the power not to be bound by any earlier decision but, in its discretion, to rescind or vary any earlier order.
Justice Tan Lee Meng's view was that I could not raise that in the bankruptcy proceedings but that has to be brought by way of a separate action to set aside the consent order. I wished to point out to him the English authorities where the court exercising bankruptcy jurisdiction had said that the courts should consider whether the creditors had acted in any extortionate manner.
Lord Evershed, Master of the Rolls, in the case of re MAJORY, a debtor, heard in 1955 said in his judgment, "... the court will always look strictly at the conduct of a creditor using or threatening such proceedings; and if it concludes that the creditor has used or threatened the proceedings at all oppressively, for example, in order to obtain some payment or promise (emphasis added) from the debtor or some other collateral advantage to himself properly attributable to the use of the threat, the court will not hesitate to declare the creditor's conduct extortionate and will not allow him to make use of the process which he has abused".
Justice Tan, however, said the matter could not be raised in the proceedings before him but had to be by way of a separate action. I pointed out to him that bankruptcy was not a matter of contract but that the court had to be satisfied that all the conditions existed before a bankruptcy order can be made. A bankruptcy order affects status and, as has been said in the English court, bankruptcy proceedings are "a potent instrument of oppression".
I argued that in this case the creditors have not shown that I will not be able to pay the debts. The Judge's view was that since I had breached, unless I was able to tell him that I could pay the entire sum now, he could not re-write any further agreement for me to pay by installments.
It seems to me that this view overlooks that very wide powers given to the court exercising jurisdiction in bankruptcy to do complete justice. In the Judge's view if the debtor has agreed, for the creditors accepting installment payment, to be made a bankrupt upon any failure, the court is bound by that order. It appears to me that this view makes the court powerless. I have to consider where I go from here, whether I should appeal the decision or take any other proceedings. I have a month within which to appeal from the Judge to the Court of Appeal.
In the meantime, elections may be held and I shall be barred from taking part in the elections.
J B Jeyaretnam
7th February 2001