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Below are excerpts from the closing submissions that Dr Chee would have made if he had been given time to prepare one. The judge, Mr Kan Ting Chiu, had ordered Dr Chee to present his submissions immediately after a two-day hearing during which he was put on the stand for cross-examination.
Dr Chee had asked for just one day to get the court transcripts so that he could prepare a proper closing argument. The judge dismissed his request. Lawyers, let alone a layperson such as Dr Chee who was representing himself, are routinely given additional time (sometimes for up to a few days) to prepare their closing submissions.
Before I had left for the US for my fellowship, I had informed the courts on 31 January 2004 that I would be away from February until August 2004 and to postpone all matters regarding the case until my return.
Despite knowing this, the plaintiffs wrote to the court on 4 February and asked for the hearing dates to be fixed. The courts obliged and set 10 February for all parties to appear before it to take dates even though it had received my letter indicating that I would be away.
Drew & Napier, the law firm that represents Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong, claims that it had faxed me their letter of 4 February. I did not see the letter. If I had seen it I would have been alerted to the session on 10 February. There are three important things to note regarding this letter that was supposedly faxed to me:
– one, Drew & Napier always send their correspondence to me via more than one mode: by fax, by post, and by hand. In addition, whenever it sent a document by hand or by post, the firm would have it delivered to both my office and home. This one particular letter was only faxed to my office.
– two, in the bundle of documents that the plaintiffs had compiled for the hearing, the palintiffs’ counsel curiously omitted to include this letter when it is always very meticulous about presenting each and every document.
– three, during my cross-examination Mr Davinder Singh showed me a copy of the letter which had the date of transmission printed over it. Mr Singh then quickly took back the letter and did not leave a copy of it for me even though I had requested for one.
There are several questions that the plaintiffs and their counsel, Mr Singh, should answer:
– one, why did Mr Lee and Mr Goh insist on asking the court to set the dates for the hearing despite knowing that I was going to be away and not be able to attend the session?
– two, why was the 4-February letter only faxed to me (if it was in fact faxed) when other letters were always also sent by post and/or by hand to my office and home?
– three, how did he obtain the transmission information printed over the letter? Would he be willing to allow me to verify the authenticity of the transmission information?
I had applied to cross-examine the plaintiffs so that I could settle these issues because it runs into the question of whether they had deliberately schemed to get me to miss the session of 10 February when the dates for the hearing were fixed. It was also an issue that the plaintiffs had canvassed during the hearing. But the judge refused to allow me to call Mr Lee, Mr Goh and Mr Singh to the stand.
The plaintiffs counsel also made an issue of the fact that I had not mentioned my visiting Taiwan on my way to the US and my trip to Hong Kong in August 2004 in my affidavit. The truth of the matter is that my stopover in Taiwan on my way to the US was to give my children a break in the long journey and for them and my wife to see my in-laws.
My trip to Hong Kong was an ARDA mission to assess the political situation in the Chinese city. In other words, I was on official business for the organization. Because of this ARDA would pay, as it does for all of its volunteers, expenses for the trip. But having to come back to Singapore from the US to attend a hearing and then to return would have meant that I would have to pay the expenses myself which I cannot afford.
Besides, what do my stopover in Taiwan in February and my visit to Hong Kong on 2-3 August have anything to do with 6 September the date of the hearing which I have asked to be postponed. Mr Singh was scraping the bottom of the barrel and coming up with facts that were wholly unrelated to the issue at hand. This was done purely for the benefit of the local media which lapped everything up to present as facts to the public.
After Taiwan I arrived in the US on 19 February, ahead on my fellowship on 1 March. The reason is that I had to look for housing, school for my eldest daughter, and so on. Mr Singh said that I had left early and gave the impression that my fellowship started in February 2004. Again he was saying this for the reporters present because he knew full well that when one is going away for several months and with young children, one would need to leave early to take care of the logistical arrangements I mentioned.
Following the completion of my fellowship, I stayed on in the US because I had to complete some of the fellowship-related assignments I had taken up while there as well as to obtain birth and travel documents for our newborn which took several weeks to do. Despite this, Mr Singh continued with his lies that I had deliberately stayed in the US for a holiday to avoid the hearing.
I left the US and arrived in Taiwan on 31 August. I had to attend an ARDA meeting on 9 September. The meeting was fixed before I came to learn of the hearing dates fixed for 6-8 September.
It was not possible for me to return to Singapore for the hearing because it would mean that I would miss the ARDA meeting which involved members from several other countries coming to Taipei. Besides, I could not leave my three children with my wife and her parents as my in-laws were not in the best of health.
Based on the following facts:
– that I had asked the courts to hold off all proceedings until after my return from my fellowship,
– that the plaintiffs and the courts had arranged for a time to set the hearing dates in my absence after I had informed them that I was going to be away,
– that the ARDA meeting on 9 September was fixed before I eventually came to learn of the hearing dates,
is it unreasonable for me to ask the courts to postpone the hearing? After all I was asking for just a few weeks, not months.
How would the postponement of the hearing by a few weeks prejudice the plaintiffs case? If the courts had granted my request, the hearing could have taken place and be disposed of in early October 2004 at the very latest.
I would then be able to cross-examine the very two people who have accused me of defaming them and wanting close to one million dollars in damages. I have already been denied of an open trial in the case and for there to be some semblance of justice, I should be able to participate in the hearing for assessment of damages.
Without the benefit of the above closing arguments, however, the judge went ahead and dismissed Dr Chees application to have the hearing reconvened. He said that he did not hear any good explanations from the SDP secretary-general. How could he when he denied Dr Chee the right to have time to prepare the material?
Now compare how the Straits Times reported the matter. At the end of the report, Ms Chia wrote: “Dr Chee did not respond when given the opportunity to do so, after which Justice Kan gave his ruling.” This is a lie. Dr Chee repeatedly stood up and challenged the judge on his decision to not allow Dr Chee to prepare and present his submissions.
High Court dismisses Chee’s application
6 November 2004
THE High Court yesterday dismissed Dr Chee Soon Juan’s application to reconvene a Sept 6 hearing he had failed to attend.
Justice Kan Ting Chiu, in ruling against the application, said the Singapore Democratic Party leader failed to provide a ‘good explanation’ for his absence from the hearing.
That hearing was to assess damages Dr Chee had to pay for defaming Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew during the 2001 election campaign.
‘The onus was on him to satisfy me there were good reasons he truly couldn’t come… despite his intention to come. I don’t find him to have discharged his onus,’ Justice Kan said.
He noted that the reason Dr Chee offered for why he needed a later date – that he would be away in the United States on a fellowship from February to August – ‘was not really complete’ as the fellowship was only from March to July.
‘And when the hearing date was fixed and the defendant was notified, he continued to express his unhappiness… But beyond stating that he couldn’t come due to unforeseen circumstances, he did not elaborate,’ the judge said when describing what he took into account before he made his ruling.
His decision ended a three-day hearing during which he heard evidence from Dr Chee, who was under cross-examination, and arguments presented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, representing Mr Goh and Mr Lee.
During the course of yesterday’s hearing, Justice Kan also dismissed a separate application by Dr Chee to cross-examine both leaders as well as Mr Singh.
Dr Chee yesterday protested against the dismissal of his application to reconvene the Sept 6 hearing and complained he had been denied an extra day to prepare his closing arguments when he would have substantiated the reasons for his absence.
He sought the additional time when it was his turn to sum up his case.
He said he needed more time to get hold of and read court transcripts so he could prepare a ‘cogent’ argument, and added that he had been unable to take notes during the two days he was cross-examined by Mr Singh.
Justice Kan adjourned proceedings for an hour but when the court resumed, Dr Chee chose not to present his closing arguments. Instead, he listed reasons why he required an extra day to prepare.
‘All I seek is fair treatment from the courts and that justice is meted out,’ he argued.
When Justice Kan did not agree, Dr Chee said he was unable to continue.
Mr Singh, who then made his closing arguments, asked the court to dismiss Dr Chee’s application, and cited a number of reasons.
He repeated his assertions that Dr Chee deliberately misled the court about his fellowship dates, and had been coy as to his whereabouts after the fellowship as his intention all along had been to delay the hearing which he had no intention of attending.
Dr Chee’s sworn statement, in which he had to account for his absence from Singapore, was described as ‘skimpy’ as it omitted travel details such as a February visit to Taiwan and an August trip to Hong Kong.
‘We are dealing with someone who has lost the ability to tell the truth. Everything is twisted, distorted, glossed over, misinterpreted,’ said Mr Singh.
He charged that Dr Chee had adopted a ‘cavalier’ attitude towards the assessment hearing. Travel details showed clearly he was able to attend the Sept 6 hearing, but he chose a family holiday in Taiwan instead.
‘He had decided a long time ago he was not going to come back and he would find every reason, even if it is a false reason, to prolong the entire proceedings, which he tried to do,’ he said.
Mr Singh added that the court should not condone Dr Chee’s ‘deplorable conduct’. Otherwise, what signal would it be sending out to his clients or to other litigants for that matter, who have observed court rules and requirements?
‘How can the system deliver justice to them if every time the other party does not comply, he is given another opportunity and yet another opportunity… to find a way to comply?’ he asked.
‘I say enough is enough. There comes a time when it is necessary that the court lay down the law and force litigants to comply with the law.’
Mr Singh also accused Dr Chee of trying to ‘gain political mileage’ by applying to re-open the Sept 6 hearing.
The more adverse the consequence, the more beneficial for his cause which is to please his foreign patrons, he added.
‘What is sad about this entire saga is that what was and is a legal dispute… has been perversely misused to run down the country, to run down our judges, to run down our system for the benefit of those who fund him,’ he said.
Dr Chee did not respond when given the opportunity to do so, after which Justice Kan gave his ruling.
Dr Chee will now have to file closing submissions for the Sept 6 hearings by next Friday, and Mr Goh and Mr Lee will respond to his submissions a week later on Nov 19.