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Judge Belinda Ang refused to grant Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin time to look for another lawyer to represent them in their defence against the lawsuits by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong.
Instead she awarded the case to the Lees in a summary judgement. Summary judgement is a hearing in the judge’s chambers where witnesses cannot be called and the Lees cannot be put under oath and cross-examined. In other words, the Chees were denied a trial.
Dr Chee told the court on the morning of 11 September 2006, the scheduled date for the summary judgement hearing, that their lawyer Mr M Ravi was unable to attend court as he was not feeling well.
The Judge then directed that a medical certificate (MC) be produced. When the session was reconvened in the afternoon, Dr Chee presented the certificate from a dentist that indicated a one-day rest for Mr Ravi.
The Lees’ lawyer, Mr Davinder Singh, insisted that the hearing continue the following morning. The Judge acquiesced.
Dr Chee arrived in court this morning and informed Judge Ang that Mr Ravi was still unable to attend court. He asked the judge to please give Mr Ravi time to recuperate as the lawyer had been under intense pressure handling cases such as the Falungong trial, the impending execution of Nigerian Mr Amara Tochi, and this present lawsuit by the Lees.
Dr Chee pointed out that these were high profile matters that few lawyers, if any, in Singapore would dare take up and that Mr Ravi had worked tirelessly to serve his clients. He also cited that in the Falungong case, the police were harassing the lawyer and his clients.
From all this, Dr Chee added, Mr Ravi was mentally and physically very weak and exhausted. The lawyer’s dental problem was just a symptom of a more serious health issue.
Mr Ravi had also consulted a general practitioner on the evening of 11 September. The doctor diagnosed the lawyer as suffering from asthenia, a medical condition where one feels general fatigue and weakness.
But at every step of the way, the Lees’ lawyer objected and said that the story was nothing more than a ploy to delay the proceedings.
At this point, Dr Chee shot back and told Mr Singh that this was the lowest form of argument any lawyer could make.
He told the Senior Counsel that he was happy to engage Mr Singh in a political fight at any other time and place (Mr Singh is a former PAP MP). But at the moment, a fellow legal officer’s health was in question and it was unbecoming of a lawyer such as Mr Singh to cast such aspersion on a fellow professional.
Dr Chee said that Mr Ravi would have been present if at all possible but his health was in serious question. Dr Chee asked for some compassion and good sense to allow Mr Ravi to recover and continue arguing the case
Mr Singh pointed out again that his clients’ instructions were to proceed with the summary judgement hearing.
Dr Chee said that if that was going to be the case he had no choice but to discharge Mr Ravi and look for another lawyer. He asked for a two-week adjournment to be able to do this.
Again Mr Singh objected and insisted that his clients wanted to proceed with the hearing immediately.
Dr Chee pointed out that he and Ms Chee would be without legal representation if that happened. He said that he was asking for only two weeks to try to get another lawyer and that this was not an unreasonable request.
Mr Singh vehemently objected.
Dr Chee then asked for permission to leave the courtroom because he did not want to be present arguing the matter further without a lawyer.
And so Judge Ang sat in her chambers with Senior Counsel Singh, and with no other parties present – away from the public and away from the media – during which she:
One, denied the Chees’ application for a two-week adjournment to look for another lawyer.
Two, consented to the Lees’ insistence to proceed with the summary judgement hearing despite the absence of legal representation of the Chees.
Three, awarded summary judgement to the Lees.
How much more tragic can it get?