Hang Wu Tang, ‘The Role of the Law of Unjust Enrichment in Singapore’

Singapore’s unjust enrichment law may be described as a form of adoption with adaptation from English law, which is indicative of two phenomena: first, the idea of law as a travelling phenomenon and, second, the development of law as a circulation of ideas. In Singapore, unjust enrichment is now accepted as a distinct branch of the law of obligations alongside tort and contract, providing relief to a plaintiff who has transferred an enrichment to the defendant in circumstances where the plaintiff’s intent was vitiated. This vitiation of intent is expressed as an ‘unjust factor’. While certain ‘unjust factors’ are regarded as well established, Singapore’s jurisprudence has not confronted the difficult question of what are the proper considerations to consider before admitting new ‘unjust factors’. Hence, the unjust enrichment principle in Singapore may be described as positivist and weakly normative and operates as an organizing concept for pre-existing recognized ‘unjust factors’. Unlike civil law, unjust enrichment law in Singapore does not have a role to play when the enrichment is transferred where there is an absence of basis. This article also traces two constraints that limit the role of the law of unjust enrichment in other contexts – namely, the insistence that there must be a direct transfer of enrichment from the plaintiff to the defendant and that unjust enrichment claims may not operate where there is a valid contract conferring the enrichment. In terms of divergence, Singapore has charted its own course in terms of the role unjust enrichment law plays in the context of an illegal contract. Instead of relying on a range of considerations before allowing restitution, Singapore’s approach to restitution considers whether the claim would undermine the fundamental policy, be it statutory or of the common law, that rendered the contract in question void and unenforceable in the first place.

Hang Wu Tang, The Role of the Law of Unjust Enrichment in Singapore, Chinese Journal of Comparative Law, https://doi.org/10.1093/cjcl/cxaa034. Published: 26 February 2021.

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