Court/Judicial body: Supreme Court of Singapore – Court of Appeal
Date: 19 November 2009 CRC
Provisions: Article 18(1): Parental responsibilities
Domestic provisions: Inheritance (Family Provision) Act (Cap 138, 1985 Rev Ed)
Background: A man died intestate, leaving behind a wife and four daughters of the marriage, as well as two daughters outside of the marriage with the appellant. The appellant sought, on behalf of her two daughters, maintenance from the estate of the deceased (the respondent) under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act (IFP (S) Act). Under the Act, the court can order payment out of the deceased’s net estate for the maintenance of a surviving spouse and/or son(s)/daughter(s) who were dependent on the deceased immediately prior to the deceased’s death. The High Court refused the appellant’s application, having ruled that “illegitimate” children were not end to claim maintenance under the IFP (S) Act.
Issue and resolution: Discrimination; whether children born out of wedlock are end to claim maintenance from the estate of a deceased parent. The Court of Appeal held that they were not end under the domestic law as currently drafted, but urged parliament to make a policy and legislative call to make such amendments so as to enable an “illegitimate” child to claim for maintenance.
Court reasoning: Although the law already imposes a duty on a natural person to maintain an “illegitimate” child, this does not extend beyond the death of such person and the deceased’s estate. The ordinary literal meaning of the words “child”, “son” and “daughter” – which would include “illegitimate” children – would not apply in interpreting the words “son” and “daughter” under the IFP (S) Act. The context would militate against reading the words “son” and “daughter” to encompass even a child of the deceased with another man/woman to whom the deceased was never married. Moreover, under the common law, reference in a statute to “child”/“children” would mean a “legitimate” child/children. Further, the Court concluded that only “legitimate” children are end to claim against their natural parent’s estate under the Intestate Succession Act. To permit an “illegitimate” child to claim for maintenance against his or her deceased parent’s estate would be to indirectly allow that child to claim for a share in the intestate parent’s estate, contrary to the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act. The Court recognised that Article 18(1) of the CRC requires State parties to use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. The Court however noted that nothing in the CRC compels Singapore to equate an illegitimate child with a legitimate child. Whether an illegitimate child should have the right to claim for maintenance under the IFP (S) Act would be a policy decision of parliament. The Court urged the legislature to seriously consider making the necessary reforms to enable this.
Excerpt citing CRC and other relevant human rights Though counsel for the parties have not raised this, we note that Singapore has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on 4 November 1995. Article 18(1) of the Convention requires States Parties to use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. But nothing in this Convention compels Singapore to equate an illegitimate child with a legitimate child.
Follow up: There is no indication of the Singapore parliament adopting the changes urged by the Court of Appeal.
CRIN comments: CRIN believes this decision is not consistent with the CRC. Article 2 of the CRC provides that States must ensure the rights in the Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his/her parent’s status. Accordingly, contrary to the statement by the Court, children born out of wedlock are end to the same rights under the CRC as children born in wedlock. This includes the right under Article 27 to an adequate standard of living, which parents have the primary responsibility to ensure.
Citation:  SGCA 56
Link to full judgement: http://www.asianlii.org/sg/cases/SGCA/2009/56.html