Why appeal contempt of court conviction?

June 18, 2008
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

Some of you may be wondering why Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin are appealing against the contempt of court conviction by Judge Belinda Ang. After all, the jail sentences have already been served.

This misses the point. Judge Ang had given the defendants two days to file their appeals each of which required a $1,000 fee. (This fee itself is contentious given that the matter was a criminal conviction and such convictions do not require filing fees, unlike in civil proceedings.)

Dr Chee and Ms Chee were, of course, not able to come up with the money on such a short notice and had no choice but to serve their prison sentences. But the time to lodge an appeal is not over and the defendants would like to appeal to Singaporeans to contribute towards the filing fees.

The appeal is important because it is necessary to place the record of what happened during the two days of hearing before the three judges sitting on the Court of Appeals. These judges need to decide if such happenings warranted the defendants to be held in contempt of court:

One, halfway through a session on the first day (26 May), a group of men (7-8 of them) barged in and without so much as acknowledging the Judge took up positions around the courtroom. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was then ushered in. Dr Chee asked the Judge whether these people could identify themselves and to state the reasons for their presence. Mr Davinder Singh, the plaintiffs’ counsel, had not applied for permission for these persons to be present.

In addition, one of Drew & Napier’s partners, Mr Hri Kumar who is also a PAP MP, was seated beside Mr Lee Kuan Yew in courtroom. Mr Kumar was not involved in the case. His only function seemed to be to keep the Minister Mentor company. Again, no permission was sought for his presence and Judge Ang did not ask who Mr Kumar was and what he was doing in her courtroom.

Contrast this with the defendants who earlier in the proceedings had to seek permission for their helpers to be present in the courtroom to assist in taking notes. Permission was given only after the identification and purposes of the helpers were given. In fact, lawyer Mr Chia Ti Lik, was stopped from entering the courtroom for one of the sessions.

Two, the Lees successfully applied for their cross-examinations to be limited to two hours each even though there was one-and-a-half days left. It was the courts who had set aside three days for the hearing which ended abruptly with almost one day unused. Needless to say, the cross-examination of the plaintiffs was severely curtailed.

Three, Mr Lee Kuan Yew arrived at noon on the second day of the hearing and insisted that he testify through lunchtime. This was because Mr Lee had “some important matters” to attend to that afternoon. When Dr Chee protested and said that there should be a lunch break, the Judge refused to listen and allowed Mr Lee to testify through lunchtime. When Dr Chee asked Judge Ang to enquire what Mr Lee’s “important matter” was, she declined.

Contrast this with Ms Chee Siok Chin who had on the previous day asked for a half-day adjournment to allow her to see a doctor because her entire right cheek was swollen and she was in pain because of a chipped tooth. The Judge refused her the adjournment.

The defendants’ remarks, for which Judge Ang cited them for contempt of court, were made in the context of the above occurrences. It is imperative therefore that the Court of Appeals hear these arguments and render its own decision on the entire matter.

For those of you who would like to help in the appeal effort by contributing towards the fee of $2,000 necessary for filing the appeals, please click here. Thank you.