Administrative and Constitutional Law

AuthorV S WINSLOW MA, LLB (Cantab), Barrister (MT), Advocate & Solicitor (Singapore), Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore.
Citation(2001) 2 SAL Ann Rev 1
Published date01 December 2001
Date01 December 2001

1.1 Administrative law and constitutional law may properly be termed part of “public law”, and it is often difficult to separate the two subjects as one sometimes runs into the other. However, in the cases considered here, the issues arising may, thankfully, be subsumed under just one or the other of these heads. This writer will consider the administrative or constitutional law issues arising in the cases, if they are of sufficient interest and importance, without considering other aspects of the cases which may properly be the subject of another contributor”s discussion, such as criminal law. The administrative or constitutional law issues may not be the major point of focus in some of the cases, but as there is a dearth of cases in both areas in our jurisdiction, even a small point decided, or a dictum, may prove instructive and should not be altogether omitted. Needless to say, however, cases which properly belong to adjectival law without substantive issues like standing, are omitted here. Omitted also are cases which are decided on very specific statutory provisions, and detailed findings of fact — such as disciplinary cases under the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161), if no principles relevant to administrative law generally, emerge.

Judicial review

1.2 What lawyers usually refer to as “judicial review” tend to be actions in the High Court by way of the so-called “perogative” writs of certiorari, prohibition and mandamus under Ord 53 of the Rules of Court. However, this is judicial review by way of “public law” remedies. There is another form of judicial review by way of the “private law” remedies (in all subordinate and high courts) of declaration, injunction or damages, which may be particularly useful in the “club” cases or so-called domestic tribunals where public law remedies are not appropriate, but where some factors still make the case amenable to judicial review due to some “public” elements in the circumstances of the case. We start with one such case.

“Club” cases: declaration and injunction

1.3 In the case of Chin Hong Onn Ronny v Tanah Merah Country Club (Originating Summons 1519/2000, HC, unreported judgment dated

21.5.2001), the plaintiff, a member of the Tanah Merah Country Club (“TMCC”), filed an Originating Summons praying for declarations and injunctions in relation to the suspension of his club privileges arising out of the dangerous play of one of his guests in his golf flight on 20 June 2000 at the Tampines course. The matter came before Lai Siu Chiu J. Under the club rules, the club captain was empowered to deal with any complaint where the matter complained of was a “minor” offence, viz, where the maximum penalty would not normally involve more than six months” suspension. More serious matters would be dealt with by the disciplinary committee. Members were also responsible for the conduct of their guests. The plaintiff accordingly received a letter from the general manager giving notice of contemplated disciplinary action and requesting a written explanation. He forwarded his explanation with his guest”s statement, and the defendants (the club) forwarded the explanation to the complainant. The manager then sent the plaintiff a letter informing him that the captain had considered all the reports submitted by all the parties and was satisfied that his guest was guilty of dangerous play and the plaintiff was accordingly suspended for three months. The plaintiff wrote a second letter stating he was prepared to respect the captain”s finding, but appealing for a reduction of the penalty or a warning, submitting “mitigating factors”. The defendants” general manager replied stating that the captain had considered the appeal and after consulting with the greens sub-committee, had decided to confirm the penalty. The defendants then received a lengthy letter from the plaintiff in a “vitriolic” tone, questioning the captain”s integrity and judgment, and claiming he had not been given an opportunity to be heard; and demanding that the suspension be revoked, reserving his right to claim damages for wrongful suspension and other remedies. The defendants responded by giving him notice that he was now to face disciplinary proceedings for impugning the conduct and standing of the captain, and inviting him to attend the meeting or submit a written explanation. This letter prompted the plaintiff to file the Originating Summons as a “pre-emptive strike”, including an injunction to restrain the defendants from proceeding with the disciplinary hearing.

1.4 Lai Siu Chiu J, in examining the facts, including the rules of the club, concluded that the captain had acted correctly within the rules and that the plaintiff”s guest had admittedly breached the rules. It was not open to the plaintiff, as a member, to question the greens committee”s or the captain”s authority if the club had vested the committee and captain with such authority. It was also not open to him to interpret the rules in his own fashion. As to the plaintiff”s complaint that there had been non-compliance with the rules of natural justice, her Honour stated (at para 22):

“The position at law is, the function of the court in relation to the proceedings of clubs is a supervisory one and confined to the examination of the decision-making process, ie whether the rules of natural justice had been observed and whether the decision was honestly reached. Its function is not to review the evidence and the correctness of the decision itself.”

She cited in support for this proposition the earlier decision of the Court of Appeal in Singapore Amateur Athletic Association v Haron bin Mundir[1994] 1 SLR 47, where similar remarks were made by Warren Khoo J in delivering the judgment of the court (at 59). There, Khoo J had emphasised that “the jurisdiction of the courts in reviewing the decisions of domestic tribunals is clearly of a limited nature” (at 59).

1.5 Lai J dismissed the plaintiff”s applications as unmeritorious. The defendant club had, inter alia, acted fairly and according to its rules.

1.6 It may be worth noting in this context that the trial judge in Haron bin Mundir v Singapore Amateur Athletic Association[1992] 1 SLR 18, G P...

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