International observers noting all that is happening in court

August 17, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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The hearings regarding the Lees’ lawsuits being conducted behind closed doors thus far may not be congruent with international practice.

Mr Richard Gibbs, QC who was in Singapore on 3 Aug 2006 was not allowed to be present in Judge Woo Bih Li’s chambers to observe the proceedings. Mr Gibbs was representing the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, a group of distinguished Canadian lawyers that has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Mr Albert Ho, a veteran lawyer and Legislative Council Member in Hong Kong, was present in court yesterday for the Originating Summons hearing. He was representing the Asian Human Rights Commission. However, he was asked to leave her chambers by Judge Belinda Ang.

The two observers have expressed their initial concerns that the matters were heard in chambers and not in open court, especially when there seemed to be much substantive issues that were being argued. Such practice is at odds with international practice where matters are routinely carried out in full public view. Judges do it as a matter of course, without parties having to ask for it.

This is especially important when the judge is being asked to disqualify him/herself. The arguments, the judge’s decision and reasons for the disqualification or non-disqualification should be conducted in open court.

Of course, the PAP doesn’t quite care how the world does things (or so it says). But if judicial practice deviates too much from the international norm, especially when it comes to questions of fairness and impartiality, then court decisions in Singapore could be increasingly viewed askance.

This is already the case in the on-going legal tussle between two companies, Enernorth Industries and Oakwell Ltd, in Canada. Enernorth is asking the Canadian Supreme Court not to recognise a decision made in Singapore because the Singapore system does not meet the standards in Canada.

The goings-on in the current matter of the Lees’ lawsuits against the Chees would, one suspects, be a consideration in the final decision in Canada. To this end, the observer’s reports by Mr Gibbs and Mr Ho have an important part to play.

How the decision would impact on Singapore and our dealings with the rest of the world in all areas is anyone’s guess. Singaporeans should, at the very least, be concerned.