The High Court has dismissed Dr Chee Soon Juan’s appeal for a lawyer to represent him in his on-going trial in the Subordinate Court where he is charged with speaking in public without a permit.
Dr Chee made this appeal to the High Court when District Court Judge Thian Yee Sze rejected his application for counsel Joseph Chen to represent him.
Mr Chen had told Judge Thian that he needed a short adjournment of four weeks because he had other previously scheduled cases to argue. He also needed time to prepare for Dr Chee’s case as he was given only short notice to act.
Despite this Judge Thian ordered the hearing to proceed as scheduled even though Dr Chee said that without Mr Chen, he had no legal representation.
Dr Chee explained that because the matter involved political issues and that he needed the lawyer to act on a probono basis there were very few lawyers who were willing to represent him.
This did not seem to matter with Judge Thian. It also did not move High Court Judge Choo Han Teck. Dr Chee had taken out a Criminal Motion to appeal to the High Court against Judge Thian’s ruling.
Dr Chee repeated during the appeal hearing that if Mr Chen is not granted a brief adjournment, he would not be able to find another lawyer and would be without legal representation.
The SDP secretary-general reminded the court that it is the fundamental right of all persons accused of an offence to be represented by counsel.
He also pointed out that the adjournment he was seeking was only three weeks and not an inordinately long period. Many cases have been postponed for much longer periods.
In dismissing Dr Chee’s appeal, Judge Choo said that he could not step in to overrule the trial judge as the hearing had already commenced. Mr Choo added that there had to be “judicial independence” and it was not right for him to interfere. The High Court Judge apparently does not understand what judicial independence really means.
Dr Chee countered that Criminal Motion applications allowed the High Court a supervisory role over the lower court. In the present matter, a fundamental rule of justice was being breached in that the trial judge did not give the defendant’s lawyer time to prepare the case.
In an earlier matter, High Court Judge Belinda Ang also refused to give Dr Chee’s lawyer, Mr J B Jeyaretnam, time to prepare the case. Judge Ang had cited Dr Chee for contempt of court.
When Mr Jeyaretnam appeared before her and asked for time to prepare the defence, Judge Ang refused and ordered the lawyer to proceed. Dr Chee then asked to discharge counsel as it was not fair to Mr Jeyaretnam to argue the case without having sufficient time to prepare for it.
Judge Ang then convicted Dr Chee and sentenced him to 12 days imprisonment.
In the meantime, the trial before District Judge Thian continues with Dr Chee not legally represented.