Case: Timing Ltd v Tay Toh Hin [2020] SGHC 169 – High Court holds that joint bank account may be garnished

Significance: Singapore High Court held that a joint bank account may be subject to a garnishee order under Order 49 of the Rules of Court. Where there is a strong prima facie basis for concluding that all the moneys in a joint account belong to the judgment debtor, the joint account can be garnished, subject to certain requirements.

Coram: Aedit Abdullah J

A joint bank account is one which either account holder may draw money from.

The previous Singapore authorities, namely represented by One Investment and Consultancy Ltd and another v Cham Poh Meng (DBS Bank Ltd, garnishee) [2016] 5 SLR 923 (“One Investment“), per Kannan Ramesh JC (as he then was), held that a joint bank account cannot be garnished to satisfy a judgment debt.

However, Abdullah J analysed the relevant cases cited in One Investment and held that they do not support the purported general proposition. In particular, the cases did not deal with the precise effect of evidence as to the parties’ respective contributions to the joint account.

At [24], Abdullah J further held that even if the cases support such a general proposition, they should not be followed particularly where there is strong prima facie evidence that all the money in the joint account belongs to the judgment debtor; the judgment creditor should be able to have the garnishee show cause why the joint account should not be garnished. To hold otherwise would permit debtors to insulate their assets by holding them in joint accounts, and would result in an arbitrary position where the recoverability of a judgment debt depended in large part on the manner in which the debtor had decided to organise his personal finances. Such a position would unduly undermine the position of judgment creditors, and would permit judgment debtors to, fortuitously or otherwise, frustrate the rulings of a Court.

To address any practical problems from garnishing a joint account, Abdullah J proposes the following requirements to be imposed pursuant to the Court’s discretion under O 49 of the ROC:

(a) applicant to show a strong prima facie case that the whole of the moneys in the joint account(s) belong to the judgment debtor;

(b) applicant (and not the garnishee bank) must serve notice on any joint account holder(s) at the very latest by the show cause hearing; and

(c) applicant must provide an undertaking to pay for any costs and reasonably foreseeable losses of the garnishee, or joint account holder, should it be shown to the satisfaction of the court that the moneys subject to the show cause order are not in fact payable in whole or in part to the judgment debtor.

The garnishee and joint account holder(s) would have the opportunity to present their position at the confirmatory hearing for garnishment, and any complications arising can be properly addressed then. See [26].

Abdullah J at [30] thus held as a matter of law that where there is a strong prima facie basis for concluding that all the moneys in a joint account belong to the judgment debtor, the joint account can be garnished, subject to the requirements at [26].

However, the question of determining exactly how joint accounts should be divided in a case where multiple account holders have made contributions is outside the scope of this judgment: at [34].


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