TAN POH LEE & ORS v TAN KIM CHOO @ TAN KIM CHOON & ANOR [2018] 6 MLJ 141

TAN POH LEE & ORS v TAN KIM CHOO @ TAN KIM CHOON & ANOR [2018] 6 MLJ 141

Court of Appeal (Putrajaya)

Inquiry to Determine Person’s Mental Health Condition

Facts 1.   The First Respondent (R1), who held positions as a director and shareholdings in different companies and was the authorized person to operate those companies’ bank accounts, suffered a severe stroke.

2.    The stroke allegedly left R1 unable to handle his own matters.  R1 lived with his son, the Second Respondent (R2), throughout this period.  The three Appellants were R2’s sisters.

3.     The Appellants then informed R2 about their intention to appoint a committee of persons to administer R1’s estate and interests by including themselves and R2 as committee members.   However, R2 then rejected their idea.

4.   The Appellants took legal action and applied to the High Court under Section 52 of the Mental Health Act 2001 (Act 615).  They requested an inquiry into R1’s mental condition to determine whether he could manage himself and his affairs.

5.   Additionally, the Appellants sought a court order to establish a committee responsible for managing R1’s estate and affairs.

6.   The Appellants claimed that R2 denying them access to their father prevented them from presenting the latest medical reports regarding his condition.

7.   After reviewing the evidence presented by the Appellants, the High Court found a prima facie case for ordering an inquiry under Section 52 of Act 615.

8.   However, the judge then considered a rebuttal affidavit submitted by R2.  This affidavit contained more recent medical reports on R1’s condition, indicating that he could handle his own affairs.

9.  Hence, the judge preferred to accept R2’s medical reports compared to the evidence presented by the Appellants, leading to the dismissal of their application.

10.   The current appeal was made against the decision of the High Court.

Issue 1.    Whether prima facie case that a person was mentally disordered had to be established before court could order an inquiry under Section 52 of Act 615?
Ratios 1.     Whether prima facie case that a person was mentally disordered had to be established before court could order an inquiry under Section 52 of Act 615?

(a)  Section 52 of Act 615 provides the power to the Court for an order of inquiry to determine whether an alleged mentally disordered person can manage himself and his affairs.

(b)  The provision also highlighted the directions for the inquiries to be made before the Court issued such order as follows:

“Section 52.  Court may order inquiry.

(1) The Court may, on an application made before it, make an order directing an inquiry to determine whether a person subject to the jurisdiction of the Court and alleged to be mentally disordered is incapable of managing himself and his affairs due to such mental disorder.

(2) The order of the Court under subsection (1) may also contain directions for inquiries to be made concerning—

(a) the nature of the property belonging to the person alleged to be mentally disordered;

(b) the persons who are his relatives;

(c) the period during which he has been mentally disordered; or

(d) such other questions as the Court deems proper.

(3) The application for such an inquiry may be made by a relative of the person alleged to be mentally disordered, or by any public officer nominated by the Minister for the purpose of making the application.”

(c)  In the book Words, Phrases & Maxims: Legally & Judicially Defined by Anandan Krishnan, prima facie case is defined as evidence that is adequate to prove a particular fact until contradicted and invalidated by other evidence.  In fact, Sarkar on Evidence provides a more detailed explanation, defining “prima facie evidence” as evidence that, if accepted, seems to be sufficient for establishing a fact unless another credible evidence rebuts it.

(d)  Specifically, the degree of standard required in the application of the inquiry under Section 52 of Act 615 is a prima facie test.  In the High Court case of Wong Kim v Loh Kim Foh [2003] 4 MLJ 535, in deciding whether an alleged mentally disordered person was able to manage himself and his affairs, the Court held that the preliminary inquiry must be made.

(e)  The Court in Wong Kim’s case found that the aim of the preliminary inquiry was for the judge to ensure that there exists a legitimate reason for initiating an inquisition.  During this preliminary stage, the judge should ascertain that there is some prima facie evidence to establish that the individual is mentally unsound and incapable of managing their affairs.

(f)    In addition, the Court in Wong Kim’s case also was of the view that the issuance of an order to initiate an inquiry into an individual’s state of mind is a very serious matter and is meant to be a judicial decision undertaken only when the judge is convinced of its necessity based on sufficient material evidence.  Due to this reason, a two-tier inquiry process has been favoured under the Indian Lunacy Act 1972.  The preliminary inquiry establishes a prima facie justification for the inquisition order to be issued under Section 3 of the Mental Disorder Ordinance 1952.

(g)  In the appeal case, the Court agreed with the learned trial judge that a prima facie case must first be established for an application under Section 52 of Act 615, which requires a two-tier process.  Initially, the applicant must present evidence establishing a prima facie case before the Court proceeds with any inquiry under Section 52 of Act 615.  It aligns with the legal stance established in the case of Wong Kim.  In that instance, an application was made under section 3 of the Mental Disorders Ordinance 1952, which contains provisions similar to those in Section 52 of Act 615.

(h)  Based on the aforementioned provision, the Court held that the application was submitted under Section 52 of Act 615.  Therefore, the Appellant, as the applicant must establish a prima facie case before the Court could initiate an inquiry as per Section 52 of Act 615.

(i)    Hence, in determining whether there was a prima facie case, then the Court had to ascertain whether there was valid evidence supporting the claim that a person was mentally disordered.  The test for prima facie case at this stage does not require conclusive proof that a person was mentally disordered.

(j)  Although the Appellant had established a prima facie case, the learned trial judge made an error by proceeding to analyse the Appellants case like it was a full hearing on merits and concluding that the prima facie case had been rebutted by medical reports produced by RS.

(k)   However, it had to be noted that the Appellants raised concerns that they could not present recent medical reports on R1 due to denied access to him.  Upon finding a prima facie case had been established, the Court held that the judge should have ordered inquiry to be conducted under Act 615.

(l)   The inquiry was the next step before any decision regarding the administration of R1’s affairs could be made.  However, by treating the application for leave as a full merits hearing and deciding case summarily, the judge had deviated from the prescribed procedure stated in Section 52 of Act 615, hence denying the remedy to the Appellants.

(m)  The Court also decided that, upon determining that the Appellants had presented a prima facie case, the judge should have evaluated whether to proceed with the inquiry without considering the rebuttal evidence.  After the inquiry, the rebuttal evidence should have been considered at the next stage, during which the judge would assess whether to make the orders pertaining to the management of R1’s affairs.

HDecision The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the appeal by the Appellant, set aside the High Court’s order, and ordered the High Court to hear the Appellant’s application on its merits.
Key Take Away 1.    A prima facie case indicates sufficient evidence to suggest that a particular claim or allegation may have merit in the case.

2.   In fact, a prima facie case can ensure the parties’ rights are protected by not subjecting both parties to any inquiries without a reasonable basis.

3.     A prima facie case can help the Court to filter out the parties’ frivolous or baseless claims; hence, it can prevent the cases from being pursued purely based on the allegations without any reasonable evidence.

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