Book Review: Principles of the Law of Restitution in Singapore by Tang Hang Wu

I review Principles of the Law of Restitution in Singapore by Tang Hang Wu and published by Academy Publishing.

“It is clear that any civilised system of law is bound to provide remedies for cases of what has been called unjust enrichment or unjust benefit, that is to prevent a man from retaining the money of or some benefit derive from another which it is against conscience that he should keep. Such remedies in English law are generically different from remedies in contract or in tort, and are now recognised to fall within a third category of the common law which has been called quasi-contract or restitution.”

(The oft-cited passage of Lord Wright in Fibrosa Spolka Akcyjna v Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd [1943] AC 32 and which was referred to approvingly by the Federal Court in Dream Property Sdn Bhd v Atlas Housing Sdn Bhd [2015] 2 MLJ 441.)

 

Professor Tang’s textbook on the Principles of the Law of Restitution in Singapore is the first book dedicated to the law of restitution in Singapore. The book draws from leading decisions in Singapore and other Commonwealth jurisdictions to explain the fundamental concepts in the law of restitution. Due to the similarities in origin with the English law, this book is also highly relevant and useful for Malaysian practitioners.

The analysis in the book is structured into the two categories of unjust enrichment and restitution for wrongs. In his preface, the author recognised the difficulties in writing on the area of restitution as almost everything about the subject seems to be contested and where academic writings hand tended to be unhelpful from a more practical perspective. The author’s aim therefore was to have a helpful book for students, practitioners and judges.

I can confirm that the book has indeed been an excellent guide for me, with straightforward analysis and with the practical answers I need. I have known Professor Tang for several years and have attended his talks before. The book reads as if he were engaging in a conversation with me, navigating me through the difficult subject matter of restitution. Professor Tang’s writing and reasoning in his book have also been aided by his experience acting as lead counsel and co-counsel in several leading decisions in Singapore. These include the Singapore Court of Appeal decisions of Sudha Natrajan v The Bank of East Asia [2017] 1 SLR 141 and Ting Siew May v Boon Lay Choo [2014] 3 SLR 609.

The book starts off with a brief account of the evolution of the law of restitution, and with the debates and themes on this area. In delving into unjust enrichment, Professor Tang deals with the issues on the concept of “at the plaintiff’s expense” and the application of the direct transfer rule. Next, at the heart of an unjust enrichment claim, the issue of enrichment where there are monetary and non-monetary benefits.

The book moves on to the next chapters on mistake, interference with ownership and failure of consideration. On the chapter on duress, undue influence and unconscionable transactions, it focused on transfers of wealth which result in the unjust enrichment of one party.

I have highlighted only some of the various chapters covered in this extensive book. In line with local and global trends of disputes concerning illicit movement of funds and assets, I have found myself returning to the sections concerning legal issues on illegality, restitution for equitable wrongdoing and breaches of fiduciary duties, along with proprietary remedies.

I highly recommend this book and it will be a valuable addition to any practitioner’s library.

You can purchase the book on the Singapore Academy of Law website.

 

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