Privy Council Upholds Principle of Finality in Concurrent Fact Findings Review

Citation: [2024] UKPC 5
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Darren Singh v LMCS Ltd (Trinidad and Tobago) [2024] UKPC 5, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Board’) dealt with an appeal involving concurrent findings of fact between the High Court and the Court of Appeal of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The case offered insight into the circumstances under which the Board would review concurrent findings of fact by the courts below. Further, the judgment emphasized the standard of appellate review in factual disputes.

Key Facts

The facts revolved around a factual dispute concerning an alleged oral agreement for a loan of TT$1,500,000.00 from LMCS to Darren Singh. The appellant contended that the payment received was not a loan but a form of repayment for monies owed to him by a third party, which LMCS was to pay on behalf of the third party. Conversely, LMCS maintained it was a loan to be repaid within one year. After the trial court sided with LMCS, and this was upheld on appeal, the appellant took the matter to the Board seeking to overturn these factual findings.

The Board reiterated the principle that it does not, except in exceptional cases, review by way of second appeal concurrent findings of fact by lower courts, enunciated in Devi v Roy [1946] AC 508. The Board outlined the rationale behind this practice including the reasons listed below:

  1. Affording deference to the findings of a trial judge who had the benefit of seeing and hearing the witnesses.
  2. Recognizing the improbability of a second appellate court properly overriding the concurrent findings of two courts.
  3. Upholding the expectation for the finality of litigation.
  4. Resource considerations for the Board.
  5. Local courts’ deeper understanding of local custom and culture.

The exceptional circumstances which would warrant departure from this principle were contemplated in Devi v Roy and further expounded upon in Sancus Financial Holdings Ltd v Holm [2022] UKPC 41, [2022] 1 WLR 5181. These circumstances include:

  • Miscarriages of justice or violation of principles of law or procedure.
  • Erroneous propositions of law that would impact the final judgment.
  • Material violations in the admission of evidence.

In applying these legal principles, the Board considered whether the appellant demonstrated the existence of such exceptional circumstances that would warrant their intervention in the concurrent factual findings of the lower courts.

Outcomes

After reviewing the submissions, the Board was not persuaded that the appellant had demonstrated the requisite exceptionality. The Board pointed to various factors presented by the appellant’s legal counsel which argued for a reassessment of the credibility of witnesses and the evaluation of evidence. These factors included the absence of documentary evidence for the alleged loan, inconsistencies in testimonies, and the behavior of parties before litigation. The Board concluded that these were not exceptional circumstances but rather part of the normal process of fact-finding and assessment by the trial judge.

Taking into account all the arguments presented, the Board dismissed the appeal, indicating that the reasons for the dismissal would be provided at a later date. This was in line with the established practice of not undertaking a review against concurrent findings of fact unless exceptional circumstances were present.

Conclusion

The case Darren Singh v LMCS Ltd (Trinidad and Tobago) [2024] UKPC 5 exemplifies the Privy Council’s cautious approach in reviewing concurrent factual findings by lower courts. It reinforced that only in the presence of exceptional circumstances will the Privy Council disturb such findings, upholding the principles of finality and conservation of judicial resources. The legal profession is reminded through this judgment that appeals based on factual dissatisfaction are unlikely to succeed unless they meet the high threshold of exceptionality outlined by established precedents.

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