Business relationships and transactions are usually based on contracts, and nothing is as binding on a party as signing on the dotted line. We would expect legal obligations to follow the signee. However, there are instances where signatures can be „disguised‟ or forged. In the case of The Bank of East Asia Limited v Sudha Natrajan  SGHC 328, the Court had to decide whether the signature on a contract was indeed executed by the Defendant, or a forgery as alleged by the Defendant. Here, the sanctity of the contract in question was successfully upheld by Chua Beng Chye and Cherie Tan of Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP.
The case centred on a Deed of Assignment (the “Deed”) that the Defendant and her husband had entered into with the Plaintiff bank. Under the terms of the Deed, they undertook to pay the debts that Tecnomic Processors Pte Ltd (the “Company”) owed to the Plaintiff bank. The Defendant‟s husband was a shareholder and director of the Company. The Defendant vehemently denied that she had signed the Deed, or ever seen it at all. The implication was that her signature had been forged.
The Defendant had engaged a handwriting expert from Health Sciences Authority (“HSA”) to testify that the signature on the Deed was unlikely to belong to the Defendant.
On the facts, the Court saw the Defendant‟s version of events as “stretching the limits of credibility”. It was nebulous and cloudy who the Defendant alleged to have forged her signature. It was not her position that either her husband or the Plaintiff bank‟s representatives were responsible. The Court was unconvinced by the Defendant‟s essentially bare denial of having signed or seen the Deed. The Defendant produced little evidence to support a fairly incredulous version of events.
The Court acknowledged that even if the signatures did not match, it did not mean that the signatures were forged. The Court recognised that a person could “consciously and deliberately fake his signature”, by signing in an “entirely different fashion”. The Court added that handwriting experts should only be relied upon in the absence of other credible evidence.
In the present case, the Defendant could have called her husband to give direct evidence. He was central to proving her version of events, and should have been accessible to the Defendant as they were living under the same roof. It was not the Defendant‟s position that her husband‟s signature was forged, and no police report was filed to such effect. It appeared that he intended the Deed to bind, and it was logical that he would have procured or persuaded the Defendant, his wife, to sign.
As such, the Court thus accepted the Plaintiff‟s submission that an adverse inference should be drawn against the Defendant.
In sharp contrast to the evidence presented by the Defendant, the Plaintiff was able to produce direct credible evidence to support its claim. The Plaintiff subpoenaed the solicitor who witnessed the signing of the Deed, and the Court accepted his testimony that he had not “blind signed” the Deed. He confirmed unequivocally that the Defendant had in fact signed the Deed before him. The seeds of doubt that the Court harboured over the Defendant‟s testimony were fortified by the said solicitor‟s evidence. In the end, the Court found in favour of the Plaintiff and ordered against the Defendant.
Parties seeking to challenge a signature on a document should be aware that a bare denial will not serve to convince the Court. The bar to proving forgery is high, and must thus be supported by sufficient evidence, whether in the form of reliable witnesses or contemporaneous documents. Witnesses who are key figures in the alleged forgery should be called upon to testify, or else their absence may lead to an adverse inference against the party challenging the signature.