11 Aug 06
Events leading to the summary judgement hearing on 16 August 2006, Wednesday, have been irregular and disturbing, to say the least. (The hearing was supposed to be held on 3 Aug but had to be adjourned when Judge Woo Bih Li disqualified himself from hearing the case because of an acrimonious exchange he had with Mr M Ravi, a few years ago.)
Ms Chee Siok Chin and Dr Chee Soon Juan have applied for an Originating Summons (OS) to stop the summary judgement hearing from proceeding because such a procedure denies the Defendants a public trial.
Inexplicably, however, the Registrar has scheduled for both OS and summary judgement hearings to be heard not only on the same day but also at the same time. What is the motivation behind such a move?
Even Judge Woo and Mr Jeffrey Chan from the AG’s chambers expressed surprise that the matters were fixed at the same time on Aug 3 when Mr Ravi brought up the matter in court.
If the Judge dismisses the OS application, the Chees have the right to appeal the decision. But if the summary judgement proceeds immediately after the OS hearing, how are the Defendants going to appeal?
Why this vulgar rush to judgement?
Mr Ravi has written to ask the Registrar to postpone the summary judgement hearing so that the Chees be allowed the opportunity to appeal the judge’s decision. The Lees’ lawyer immediately wrote to the Registrar to “object to any adjournment of the Order 14 [summary judgement] Applications.”
(A similarly discomfiting incident took place in 2004. Messrs Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong had written to the Registrar to bring forward the hearing to assess damages despite knowing that Dr Chee was away in the US on a fellowship. The Registrar, also with the knowledge that Dr Chee was away, chose to write to him to ask him to attend court. Didn’t it occur to the Registrar to inform Mr Lee and Mr Goh that their request was not possible because Dr Chee was away?)
The second irregularity concerns the summary judgement being heard by a (High Court) Judge as opposed to it being presided over at the registrar’s level which is the normal practice.
Such an odd arrangement deprives the Chees of one tier of appeal. (A hearing at the registrar’s level would allow an appeal to the High Court. If the appeal to the High Court fails then another, and final, appeal can be lodged with the Court of Appeal. With present arrangement, however, the Defendants can now only appeal to the Court of Appeal, thus taking away from one valuable forum of appeal.)
When asked why the hearing was placed before him and not the registrar, Judge Woo Bih Li limply offered that the judge could adjourn the hearing and direct it to be heard at the registrar’s level. Why this round-about way of doing things? Why can’t the Registrar stick to the normal procedure and assign the matter to be heard at his level in the first place? It was instructive that Mr Woo could not come up with a definitive answer. Mr Ravi has previously queried the Registrar on this disturbing matter but has received no explanation.
These anomalies and refusal to provide proper answers by the courts do not inspire confidence in the entire process.