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The judge grimaced, rolled her eyes, and shook her head repeatedly – all during the short period that Mr M Ravi was arguing before her this morning.
Based on this and other incidents, Ms Chee Siok Chin and Dr Chee Soon Juan decided that enough was enough and that they did not want to legitimize the process any longer.
Counsel M Ravi then informed the presiding Judge Belinda Ang that his clients saw no merit in continuing on with the hearing and that he had no instructions from the Chees to proceed. The entire defence team then walked out.
The second factor that contributed to the Chees’ boycott was that the Defendants had repeatedly asked why Mr Davinder Singh, who was not a party in the Originating Summons (OS) hearing, to be present in the judge’s chambers. (The OS was to determine the constitutionality of summary judgement awarded on such a complex issue of law and fact which the AG’s Chambers, not Mr Singh, was opposing.)
The representative from the AG’s chambers, Mr Jeffery Chan, then offered the shocking reason that Mr Singh should be allowed in because “it would be unfair to let Mr Singh wait outside for an indeterminate amount of time”!
Our sincerest apologies to Mr Singh for letting him wait. Perhaps, in future, all matters should be held in abeyance so that Mr Davinder Singh, counsel for the Lees, can do whatever he needs to do first in order that he be not made to wait.
The horrendous response from Mr Jeffrey Chan would have provided much needed comical levity had he not said it with the straightest of faces and meant every word of it.
The previous judge, Mr Woo Bih Li, didn’t see it fit for Mr Singh to be present when he presided over the matter on 3 Aug and the counsel for the Lees was left outside the judge’s chambers. This time Mr Singh marched straight into Judge Belinda Ang’s despite the Defendants’ repeated objections.
This apparently affected the Mr Jeffrey Chan so much that he kept referring to Mr Ravi as Mr Singh. The Drew & Napier lawyer had to – twice – tell the AG’s representative that the defence counsel was Mr Ravi and not Mr Singh to which Mr Chan sheepishly admitted: “I’m sorry but Mr Singh is always on my mind!” You could have heard a pin drop after he said this.
Thirdly Mr Ravi had filed a Notice of Appeal to appeal against the Registrar’s decision to insist that the OS and the summary judgement hearings be heard simultaneously. Judge Woo Bih Li had on 3 Aug indicated to Mr Ravi to write to the Registrar to ask that the matters be separated because it would be legally nonsensical, even if it was physically possible, to hear the matters together.
And so Mr Ravi did – on, not one but, two occasions. He only applied for the Notice of Appeal when the Registrar refused to see reason. Mr Ravi then indicated to Judge Ang that because of this highly irregular and even biased approach taken by the Registrar, the Judge should allow the Notice of Appeal to be heard first before proceeding any further.
On this issue Mr Singh, in a most angelic manner, informed the court that he did not object to the matters heard sequentially. Of course he did not mention the little point of his objection to Mr Ravi’s request to the Registrar to have the two matters separated.
Fourth, the Defence had also noted Judge Belinda Ang’s mannerisms and facial expressions where she gave the impression that she was wishing that the Defendants would all just go away and that she had better things to deal with. Her impatience was most obvious when Mr Ravi handed her the Notice of Appeal. The Judge rolled her eyes in annoyance.
At several other points she either shook her head or scrunched up her face, again conveying the impression that she was not receptive to hearing the applications made by the Defendants.
Fifth, at one point when Mr Ravi was addressing the Judge, Mr Chan interrupted and spoke directly to the defence counsel. Mr Ravi then countered Mr Chan whereupon the Judge intervened and, to the Defendants’ surprise, addressed Mr Ravi and not Mr Chan. The defence counsel pointed out that Judge Ang should at least ask Mr Chan not to interject when he (Ravi) was submitting arguments to her. Judge Ang refused to say anything to Mr Chan.
Based on her not-very-subtle body language and her refusal to ask Mr Chan not to interrupt, the Defendants felt increasingly uncomfortable with the goings-on and expressed that they would like to have another judge hear the case. Judge Ang refused and ordered the matter to proceed.
The final straw was the repeated request for the proceeding to be held in open court. The Defence had made this application right from the beginning of the hearing even before all the applications and arguments were made. This is because the cardinal principle of Natural Justice that “justice must not only be done, but manifestly seen to be done” demanded that the matter be conducted openly in full public view.
This is especially so when the matter involved no less than Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, and all the attendant issues that had great public interest including the HDB, GIC, CPF, NKF, political corruption, torture of ISA detainees, Singapore’s dealings with drug lords in Burma, money-laundering in Singapore, nepotism, “fixing” of the opposition, and so on.
With so much of the above matters in dispute as well as complex issues of the law, no jurisdiction in the democratic world would allow any such hearing to be conducted behind closed doors, let alone awarding the plaintiffs summary judgement. In the words of a senior Queen’s Counsel: “Such procedure is an abomination and an unconscionable desecration of justice!”
Throw in the size of the damages awarded to the Lees which would financially ruin any person and render the Defendants ineligible for future elections, is it too much to ask Judge Belinda Ang to just up and walk 10 feet to the adjoining room to have all the arguments heard in open court?
Even this small gesture on the Judge’s part, but hugely important step for “justice to be manifestly seen to be done,” was denied by Ms Ang.
Seeing all that took place in the judge’s chambers and weighing out all the factors enumerated above, the Defendants had no choice but to discontinue the hearing. To proceed would be to legitimise it, something that would be a grave travesty of justice.