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At a pre-trial conference today, Senior Assistant Registrar (SAR) Ms Sharon Lim said that in “all probability” the hearing to assess damages fixed for next Monday will be conducted in open court.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong have sued the SDP, Ms Chee Siok Chin and Dr Chee Soon Juan for defamation over an article in The New Democrat comparing the NKF scandal to the way Singapore is run.
Dr Chee has been pressing the courts to confirm that the matter will be heard open court and not in chambers where the public and media could not attend.
While qualifying that she could not speak for Judge Belinda Ang, SAR Lim added that it was “almost certain” that the matter would not be heard in chambers. This was because, firstly, the defendants had applied to have the case heard in open court and, secondly, the plaintiffs did not object to it.
Aware that stranger things have happened Dr Chee turned to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Mr Adrian Tan of Drew & Napier, and asked him to make it known to the courts that the Lees would also like to have the hearing conducted in open court.
Mr Tan refused, citing that he did not have instructions from his clients. Dr Chee offered to wait while Mr Tan called the Lees to take instructions. Again, the counsel declined.
Mr M Ravi, counsel for the SDP (Ms Chee and Dr Chee are representing themselves), asked Mr Tan if his clients were happy to have the hearing in chambers. Mr Tan said that it was not whether his clients were happy or unhappy, but rather for the judge to decide.
Dr Chee explained that in a matter as important as this, it is unthinkable that the proceedings would be conducted away from public eye. He added that it was bad enough that the summary judgment was held in Judge Belinda Ang’s chambers in 2006.
SAR Lim said that she would convey the defendants’ application to Judge Ang and that the plaintiffs had no objections. She added that, given the circumstances, she saw no reason why the case would not be held in open court.
Dr Chee asked that the decision be made known without further delay, saying that it was incomprehensible why the Judge could not decide given that the hearing was less than one week away.
Earlier Mr Ravi wanted to confirm the list of witnesses. Mr AdrianTan said that apart from the Lees, the other witnesses were some SPH reporters.
Mr Ravi also wanted to know that if the application by the plaintiffs to strike out the defendants’ affidavits was successful, would the Lees still be taking the stand and be subjected to cross-examination.
The Drew & Napier lawyer confirmed that they would.
The plaintiffs want the affidavits by Ms Chee and Dr Chee as well as the supporting affidavit of former solicitor-general Mr Francis Seow struck out, claiming that the contents were “scandalous and irrelevant.”
The defendants and Mr Seow have said that the Lees’ reputations have been built on intimidating the people and controlling the media in Singapore.
In such an fearful environment, only the praises will be aired and published. This cannot be an accurate assessment of the plaintiffs’ reputations.
A separate hearing is scheduled for this striking out of the defence affidavits. This will be heard on the morning of 12 May before the hearing of the assessment of damages.
Finally, both Ms Chee and Dr Chee wanted Judge Belinda Ang to disqualify herself from hearing the case. Judge Ang had awarded summary judgment to the plaintiffs despite the fact that Mr Ravi was ill and could not attend court.
In addition, she had made comments about the defendants that were prejudicial to the case even before she passed judgment. She had also reported Mr Ravi to the Law Society.
It was only appropriate that, given the circumstances, the Judge recused herself from hearing the matter.
Judge Woo Bih Li had recused himself when it was brought up that he had an acrimonious exchange with Mr Ravi regarding another case.