Why are Courts coy about deciding to hold hearing in open court?

Singapore's Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court refuses to say clearly whether the hearing for assessment of damages in the Lees versus SDP matter fixed for next Monday, 12 May 08, will be held in open court or not.

The defendants have been pressing the Courts to make up its mind whether the public will be allowed to attend the hearing. The reason is because a few trial observers from the international legal community would like to witness the proceedings and report on them.

Weeks ago when Dr Chee Soon Juan asked the Senior Assistant Registrar (SAR) who presided over the pre-trial conference (PTC) whether the case will be in open court, the court official indicated that the judge hearing the case will decide.

So when it was announced that Judge Belinda Ang would hear the case, Dr Chee wrote to the Courts asking for a clear indication of the situation (see letter below), the Registrar replied and said that the defendants “may raise the issue” at the next PTC.

Civil service merry-go-round mentality is alive and well.

Surely it won’t take Judge Belinda Ang more than a minute to decide whether to hear the matter in open court or in, heaven forbid, her chambers again and then for the Registrar to inform all parties.

Why all the coyness with the SAR deferring to the Judge and then the Registrar parrying it back to the SAR?

Court procedure or protocol? Obviously not because the Courts have made known that the case between the Lees versus the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) will be heard in chambers (before Judge Woo Bih Li).

And yet the FEER case is scheduled to be heard after the SDP’s.

In the past, hearings of such nature have been held in open court: Dr Chee’s case with Dr Vasoo, Mr Tang Liang Hong’s case with PAP leaders and the previous lawsuit by Messrs Lee and Goh Chok Tong versus Dr Chee were all heard in open court.

So why all this hesitation in this present case? Perhaps, a recount of past events may help.

In the 2004 hearing, Mr Lee and Mr Goh taunted Dr Chee through their lawyer: “[Dr Chee] now has an opportunity of a lifetime – to cross-examine the plaintiffs and extract answers to his pressing questions. What does he do? He flees.”

The hearing was, of course, held when Dr Chee was away.

But Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his lawyer and former PAP MP, Mr Davinder Singh, could not foresee that four years later, there would be another occasion for Dr Chee to “extract answers” from the Lees. Let’s see what the plaintiffs and their lawyers have to say this time.

30 April 2008

Supreme Court

Dear Sir,

Suit Nos. 261 &262/2006

I refer to you letter dated 23 April 2008 and the Notice for Pre-trial Conference on 29 April 2008. note that you have not stated whether the hearing for assessment for damages before Judge Belinda Ang will be held in open court or not. I write again to request for an explicit confirmation that the hearing on 12-14 May 2008 will be held in open court and not the judge’s chambers.

We are less than two weeks away from the hearing. Surely it is not too early to tell parities whether the hearing be held in open court.

We have a few trial observers from overseas who will be here to attend and to report on the proceedings. It would be tremendously helpful if we can confirm whether the media and the public will be allowed to attend the hearing.

I am unsure as to why you are coy about stating categorically that the hearing before Judge Belinda Ang will be held in open court or not. Past hearings for assessment for damages have been in open court.

I am given to understand that the hearing for the suit by Messrs Lee Kuan Yew/Lee Hsien Loong versus the Far Eastern Economic Review will be held in open court before Judge Woo Bih Li. If that matter is confirmed in open court, why not ours? [The SDP has since been informed that the FEER case would now be heard in chambers.]

Would be grateful if you could let me have your answers by 2 May 2008, Friday.

Chee Soon Juan

2 May 2008

Dr Chee Soon Juan

Dear Sir,

Suit Nos. 261 & 262/2006

We refer to your letter dated 30 April 2008.

Please be informed that you may raise the issue conyained therein at the PTC on 6 May 2008.

Yours faithfully,
S Raventhiran
for Registrar
Supreme Court, Singapore

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