Chee writes to Chief Justice about summary judgment without presence of defence counsel

March 9, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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8 March 2007

Mr Chan Sek Keong
Chief Justice

Supreme Court

Singapore

Dear Sir,

Singapore Chief Justice Chan Sek KeongI would like to draw your attention to some disturbing goings-on during a hearing regarding the lawsuit of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (plaintiffs) versus the Singapore Democratic Party, Chee Siok Chin and yours truly (defendants).

We appeared before Judge Belinda Ang on the morning of 11 September 2006 to hear the application by the plaintiffs for summary judgement. This, as you know, was conducted in chambers without the media and the public allowed in.

Our lawyer, M Ravi was not able to be present because he was medically unfit. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Davinder Singh SC (a former PAP member of parliament), insisted, however, that this was “nothing more than another attempt to delay the Order 14 applications.”

We tried to explain the situation but having little knowledge of Ravi’s condition, it was difficult for us to provide details. All we knew at that time was that he was suffering from the effects of mental and physical exhaustion.

The judge gave us a few hours to produce a medical certificate (MC) for Ravi by the afternoon. We managed to get an MC from a dentist that gave our counsel rest for one day. Ravi had been complaining of a headache resulting from gum problems. It was already in the afternoon when we presented the MC to the Judge, who then adjourned the matter to the following morning of 12 September 2006.

We met Ravi on the morning of 12 September and we could see that he was in no fit state to come to court to argue our case. We informed Judge Belinda Ang of the circumstances and asked for more time for Ravi to recover.

Singh again accused us of being “devious”, hatching a “new ploy” to “manipulate” the court process. We rejected these accusations and pleaded for more time.

When the Judge refused to grant us an extension, we informed her that as a last resort, we were discharging Ravi as our lawyer. We then asked for “a week or two” to find another lawyer. Judge Ang repeatedly said that despite our discharging Ravi as our lawyer, he was still “on record” as our lawyer. Ms Chee and I then left her chambers because we were not represented.

Subsequently – and shockingly, it was revealed in the court’s Minute Sheet that following our departure, the exchange below took place between Judge Ang and Davinder Singh:

Davinder Singh: “I invite the Court to find that the discharge was designed deliberately to prevent the proceedings from continuing. I ask the Court to decline/refuse [Chee’s] application for an adjournment. Chee put himself in a position to take advantage of [Ravi’s] conduct. Initially he said Ravi is not discharged, then he said that Ravi is discharged. Chee can’t be trusted.”

Judge Ang: “Chee is hedging bets. If Ravi is well enough, Ravi will be back. If Ravi is not well, he will look for another lawyer.”

Davinder Singh: “Absolutely.”

Remember, the Judge was in her chambers alone with the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Davinder Singh. (She had on an earlier occasion denied Hong Kong lawyer and legislator, Albert Ho and an observer representing the Asian Human Rights Commission, permission to witness the proceedings.)

She then dismissed our application for a two-week adjournment for us to try to find another lawyer and proceeded to hear the summary judgment despite the absence of the Defence.

She, of course, awarded the case to the Lees.

As it turned out, Ravi’s condition deteriorated over the next few days and he was admitted to the Adam Road Hospital on 20 September 2006 where he remained for two weeks. Dr Ken Ung, Ravi’s doctor, issued an MC specifically stating that Ravi was “unfit to attend court”. The courts accepted the validity of the MC. Dr Ung also confirmed that during the period of 11 and 12 September 2007 Ravi’s illness was already apparent and affecting him, which puts paid Davinder Singh’s accusation that Ravi’s illness was a ruse, an accusation with which Judge Ang agreed.

Ms Belinda Ang’s judgement, made behind closed-doors and without the Defence present, consigned us to paying damages amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The seriousness of her decisions is reflected in the fact that the SDP now stands to be made bankrupt and de-registered by Lee Kuan Yew and his son. Chee Siok Chin also stands to be made a bankrupt, and I face further debt as I have already been made a bankrupt by Lee Kuan Yew in a previous lawsuit.

Could injustice be made anymore patent? I would like to raise several regarding the episode:

1. Is such judicial practice, where arguments from only one party are heard, acceptable in Singapore?

2. Why did Judge Belinda Ang see it appropriate to sit down with Davinder Singh alone in her chambers to hear the case?

3. We had asked for a brief two-week adjournment to find another lawyer. Was such a request so unreasonable? Why the rush to judgment? Why was the judge so ready to accept Singh’s argument that our application for a short postponement was a ploy to delay proceedings, an argument that is now proved to be wholly false given Ravi’s hospitalisation and MC?

4. Why did Judge Ang say to Singh that I was “hedging bets” when all I was trying to do was to ensure that we had the chance to fight our case? Are such judicial remarks appropriate especially when we were unrepresented and, worse, not present before her?

5. Should we, the defendants, be penalized just because our lawyer fell ill and could not be present in court?

We note that an appeal was open to us, the deadline for which is already long past. More importantly, however, we are unable to afford the $10,000 security cost required for us to file the appeal.

Singapore is already known for the ruling PAP victimizing the opposition. There is international condemnation of the use of defamation suits to cripple and silence opposition figures. Under such circumstances, I ask you to give your utmost attention to the matter at hand.

We would like to ask you to order that the Order 14 hearing be re-opened and, more importantly, have the matter heard in public, not in secret in the judge’s chambers. I realize this is unprecedented. But then, how many times have you come across a case when Lee Kuan Yew and his son, PM Lee, sue their political opponents and have the case awarded to them in chambers without the media, public and even defence present?

Sincerely,

Chee Soon Juan

Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

cc.

Fernando Pombo, President, International Bar Association

International Commission of Jurists

American Bar Association

Chairman, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Chairman, US House International Relations Committee

Ayo Obe, Chair, World Movement for Democracy

Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy

Bo Tedards, Coordinator, World Forum for Democratisation in Asia

Franklin Drilon, Senator, Chairman, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

George Soros, Chairman, Open Society Institute

Amnesty International

Gail Davidson, Executive Director, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Mickey Speigel and Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch

Neil Hicks, Human Rights First

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, Regional Representative, Nonviolence International

Basil Fernando, Executive Director, Asian Human Rights Commission

Asia-Pacific Human Rights Centre

Ted Piccone, Executive Director, Democracy Coalition Project

International Steering Committee, Community of Democracies NGO Process

Vincent Brossel, Reporters Without Borders

Roby Alampay, Southeast Asian Press Alliance

Gianni Vernetti, Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Italy

Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary of State, US

Tobias Billstrom, Minister for Justice, Sweden

Michael Moore, MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary, Liberal Democrats, UK

Lord Alderdyce, Chairman, Liberal International

Graham Watson, MEP, Alliance for Liberals and Democrats in Europe

Birgitta Ohlsson, MP, Sweden

Stuart Littlemore QC

Martin Lee QC

Richard Gibbs QC

Albert Ho, Chairman, Democratic Party, Hong Kong

David Matas, international human rights lawyer

David Kilgour, former minister, Canada

Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institute, Stanford University

Francis Seow, former solicitor-general, Singapore

Patricia Herbold, Ambassador, US Embassy

Holger Standertskjold Nordenstam, Ambassador, European Commission

Paul Madden, High Commissioner, British High Commission

Richard Grant, High Commissioner, New Zealand High Commission

Miles Kupa, High Commissioner, Australian High Commission

Folkmar Stoecker, Ambassador, German Embassy

Alan Virtue, High Commissioner, Canadian High Commission

S Jaishankar, High Commissioner, Indian High Commission

Lee Kuan Yew, Minister Mentor, Singapore

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, Singapore

Davinder Singh, Drew & Napier

Law Society of Singapore