Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew barged into the courtroom this afternoon when Mr Lee Hsien Loong was being cross-examined by the defence in a defamation case brought on by the Lees against SDP and its leaders.
Before the senior Lee made his unannounced appearance together with at least seven bodyguards, the door of the courtroom was flung open by one of his securities who had quickly rushed in front of Justice Belinda Ang who was hearing the case at Court 4B.
Judge Ang and all the others present were clearly startled as to what was going on before they spotted a hunched Mr Lee Kuan Yew slowly made his way into the courtroom to take his seat next to SDP chairman Mr Gandhi Ambalam. But quickly, an alert lawyer of the plaintiff realized the unintended proximity and showed Mr Lee to another chair further away.
While all this drama was taking place, Mr Lee Hsien Loong was in the witness stand, making everyone wonder whether there is any truth to the maxim that “everyone before the law is equal” or some more equal than others.
After the dust has settled, so to speak, and some semblance and sanity returned, Dr Chee Soon Juan objected to the way the Lee Sr had made his entry. Dr Chee repeated asked Judge Ang to ask Mr Singh to introduce those who had barged in and to state what their roles were in relation to the hearing.
This is normal procedure. The defendants had to introduce Mr Gandhi Ambalam and Mr Chia Ti Lik, and to ask the Judge permission to let them sit in to help take notes. Despite the repeated appeals by Dr Chee to Judge Ang to ask the plaintffs counsel to do the same with Mr Lee’s group, she did not.
Dr Chee pointed out that the Court should be blind to the status of the parties. For Mr Lee to enter the courtroom with his entourage in such a haughty manner was completely unacceptable.
There was also PAP MP, Mr Hri Kumar, was role was just to sit beside Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He was certainly not connected to the case and he did not seek permission from the Judge to be present.
Dr Chee also noted, besides the seven bodyguards, there were at least another ten unidentified persons who were already seated. Who these people were, and in what capacity they were present, asked Dr Chee. Getting no response from the bench, Dr Chee moved on to question the right of Mr Lee Kuan Yew to sit in while the cross-examination of Mr Lee Hsien Loong was taking place.
Dr Chee said this was because the affidavits that the two plaintiffs had submitted in support of their claims for damages were almost identical and that the questions that he would be posing to Lee Jr would be similar in nature.
However, the judge overruled the strenuous objections raised by Dr Chee and asked the SDP Counsel, Mr Ravi, to continue his cross-examination of Mr Lee Hsien Loong that was interrupted by Lee Sr’s entry.
On several occasions, Mr Davinder Singh, counsel for the plaintiffs, rose to object the line of Mr Ravi’s questioning of Mr Lee and reminded the defence counsel that he was a court official like him.
This prompted Dr Chee to remind the Judge that Mr Singh had the habit of throwing in subtle threats like this to Mr Ravi throughout the hearing in chambers, and now he was at it again in open court.
Later, Dr Chee, after establishing the fact that the two Lees had embarked on the lawsuit in their personal capacity, asked if Mr Lee had taken leave of absence from his duty as prime minister and whether there was anyone acting for him while he was appearing in court. Mr Davinder Singh immediately objected. However, when pushed, Mr Lee admitted that he did not take leave.
Dr Chee clarified that it was because Mr Lee had stated in his sworn affidavit, that he was a man with “unflinching fidelity to integrity” and as such he expected answers from Mr Lee and not interruptions from Mr Singh.
Almost throughout the entire cross-examination, Mr Singh kept “jumping up like a jackrabbit”, noted Dr Chee.
Dr Chee then read out a newspaper report of an earlier defamation suit brought against him in September 2004 by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong in which Mr Singh had noted that Dr Chee had been running down Singapore and the plaintiffs for years. Dr Chee had been carping about the lack of democracy.
Mr Singh, as defence counsel for both Mr Lee and Mr Goh, then had said: “In October 2001, he challenged the plaintiffs to answer his questions. He said the public had a right to know. He now has the opportunity of a lifetime—a chance to cross-examine the plaintiffs and extract answers to his pressing questions. What does he do? He flees.”
Turning to Judge Ang, Dr Chee said now was the chance for him to cross-examine the plaintiff and to elicit answers to those pressing questions that Mr Singh had accused Dr Chee of avoiding in the past. Dr Chee said now that he had been given this chance, Mr Singh kept preventing him from posing such questions of great public interest to Mr Lee.
The cross-examination of Mr Lee Hsien Loong continues tomorrow.