Attorney-General v Ong Wui Teck

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeBelinda Ang Saw Ean J
Judgment Date13 February 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] SGHC 30
Citation[2019] SGHC 30
Hearing Date14 August 2018,15 August 2018
Published date01 April 2020
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 871 of 2017 (Summons No 3979 of 2017)
Plaintiff CounselKhoo Boo Jin, Elaine Liew and May Ng (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Defendant CounselThe respondent in person.
Subject MatterContempt of Court,Scandalising the court,Contempt in the face of the court
Belinda Ang Saw Ean J: Introduction

Originating Summons No 871 of 2017 (“OS 871”) was filed by the Attorney-General (“the AG”) ex parte for leave to apply for an order of committal against Ong Wui Teck (“Mr Ong”) for contempt of court – scandalising contempt and contempt in the face of the court – in respect of various allegations made against Justice Woo Bih Li and the Supreme Court in Mr Ong’s two affidavits filed and served in respect of a recusal application, Originating Summons No 165 of 2016 (“OS 165”). I granted leave on 18 August 2017, and the AG filed Summons No 3979 of 2017 (“SUM 3979”) for an order of committal or such other punishment as the court deems fit to be issued against Mr Ong.

At the heart of SUM 3979 is Mr Ong’s criticisms contained in two affidavits that formed the basis of Mr Ong’s application for Woo J to recuse himself as the assigned trial judge of Mr Ong’s mother’s estate (see [16] below). The debate here is whether Mr Ong’s criticisms of the individual judge were fair criticisms as claimed by Mr Ong, or whether his criticisms went outside and beyond the allowable legal scales for recusal applications that are typically addressed to the individual judge. This judgment will also consider whether what was said could be criticisms of the system of administration of justice, attacks against the individual judge and attacks against the court as a whole. In this elevated dimension, the legal principles this judgment will examine are based on the law of contempt of court rather than on the law on recusal.

Events leading to the recusal application

Mr Ong filed his recusal application on 22 February 2016 to disqualify Woo J from hearing all actions related to his mother’s estate. In support of the recusal application, Mr Ong filed two affidavits (“OS 165 Affidavits”), one dated 18 February 2016 (“the 1st OS 165 Affidavit”) and one dated 2 March 2016 (“the 2nd OS 165 Affidavit”). Mr Ong listed the grounds for seeking to disqualify Woo J to be “[c]onflict of interest”, “absence/ lack of independence”, “[b]iasness”, “[p]rejudgment/ predetermination”, “[c]ondoning the actions of the opposing party/solicitor that are contrary to and/or an obstruction to justice” (1st OS 165 Affidavit at para 5). It is in these two affidavits that the alleged contemptuous statements are found.

Woo J was the trial judge in an earlier action relating to Mr Ong’s father’s estate. I will begin by narrating Mr Ong’s grievances with Woo J in the proceedings involving the father’s estate.

Father’s Estate Proceedings

In 2012, Woo J heard Suit No 385 of 2011 (S 385/2011), the judgment of which is reported at Ong Wui Swoon v Ong Wui Teck [2013] 1 SLR 733 (“2012 Judgment”). The suit concerned disputes between Mr Ong and his sister, Ong Wui Swoon (“the Sister”), in relation to their father’s estate (“Father’s Estate Proceedings”). Mr Ong was the administrator of their father’s estate. The most valuable assets in dispute in the proceedings were a private apartment at Sea Avenue (“the Sea Avenue Property”) which was purchased in Mr Ong’s name and sold in 2002 for $575,000, and a landed property at Pemimpin Place (“the Pemimpin Place Property”) purchased in the name of Mr Ong’s wife and was the residence of Mr Ong and his wife. The Sister claimed that the rental and the sale proceeds of Sea Avenue Property belonged to the father’s estate and was converted by Mr Ong for his own use, and also claimed a beneficial interest in the Pemimpin Place Property. Woo J made several findings as to whether certain assets were part of the father’s estate. He found that the Sea Avenue Property was not part of the estate (at [139]), and also dismissed the Sister’s claim of a beneficial interest in the Pemimpin Place Property (at [137]). He made no order as to the Sister’s claim for damages and her claim that Mr Ong had converted the estate’s assets (at [152]). However, Woo J found that there were other assets and that Mr Ong had not given a proper account of the assets of the father’s estate in the account he provided in 2011 (“the 2011 Account”) (at [138]). Hence, he ordered an inquiry before the Registrar of the Supreme Court to determine the shares owned by the estate in four different companies, the value of all the assets in the estate, and the total value available for distribution to the beneficiaries after taking into account debts, expenses and permitted deductions (at [143]). No appeal was filed against Woo J’s judgment (ie the 2012 Judgment).

An inquiry was conducted before Assistant Registrar Shaun Leong (“AR Leong”) in Taking of Accounts or Inquiries No 13 of 2013 (“the Inquiry”), who decided on 24 September 2013 that the estate was positive in the sum of $15,756.47 and ordered Mr Ong to pay the Sister a sum of $1313 as her one-twelfth share of the estate.1 Following that, there was some dispute as to the interpretation of AR Leong’s cost order given during the hearing, and AR Leong subsequently clarified that Mr Ong was liable to pay the costs of the Inquiry.

Mr Ong applied for an extension of time to appeal AR Leong’s decision, which was granted by Assistant Registrar Una Khng (“AR Khng”). Mr Ong appealed in Registrar’s Appeal No 54 of 2014 (“RA 54”) on 25 February 2014 against AR Leong’s substantive decision and decision on the costs of the Inquiry. The Sister then filed an appeal, Registrar’s Appeal No 72 of 2014 (“RA 72”), against AR Khng’s decision.

On 3 March 2014, in relation to S 385/2011, Woo J reconsidered his previous costs decision on 3 February 2014 (when he decided that each party was to bear his or her own costs) after further submissions on costs, and decided that Mr Ong was to pay the Sister costs of the trial fixed at $10,000 (“the Costs Order”). Subsequently, Mr Ong sent two letters to court on 4 March and 5 March 2014 respectively to request for further arguments to be made with respect to the Costs Order. Woo J declined to hear further arguments.

On 17 March 2014, two appeals, RA 54 and RA 72, were listed for hearing before Judicial Commissioner Lee Kim Shin (“Lee JC”). The Sister’s counsel submitted that the two appeals were best heard by Woo J as he was the trial judge, and Mr Ong did not object. Thus, Lee JC adjourned the two appeals to be heard by Woo J.

On 27 March 2014, Mr Ong sent a letter to the Registry of the Supreme Court (“the Registry”) stating that he was requesting for leave to appeal and extension of time in respect of the Costs Order. The Registry wrote on the same day requiring details of his request for leave to appeal and the details and reasons for his request for extension of time. Mr Ong sent a letter to court dated 1 April 2014 setting out his reasons. On 8 April 2014, the Registry replied that Woo J had directed that Mr Ong file a formal application for leave to appeal on costs. However, no formal application was filed by Mr Ong.

On 19 May 2014, Woo J heard RA 54 and RA 72, and the judgment is reported at Ong Wui Swoon v Ong Wui Teck and another matter [2014] SGHC 157 (“2014 Judgment”). Woo J set aside AR Khng’s decision to allow Mr Ong an extension of time to appeal against AR Leong’s substantive decision, but upheld AR Khng’s decision that allowed the extension of time to appeal against the costs of the Inquiry (at [12] of the 2014 Judgment). As to the costs order, Woo J affirmed AR Leong’s order that Mr Ong was liable to pay the costs. Woo J set aside the part of the order requiring costs to be taxed, and instead fixed the quantum of costs at $400 (at [13]). Subsequently on 21 May 2014, Mr Ong wrote to the court, seeking further arguments as to RA 54 and RA 72. Woo J declined to hear further arguments, explaining that he had already considered the length of the delay, the reasons for the delay, the merits of the appeal and the degree of prejudice to the Sister if he was to be allowed to proceed with the substantive appeal.

Mr Ong appealed against Woo J’s decision to disallow the grant of an extension of time to appeal against AR Leong’s substantive decision and Woo J’s decision to fix costs at $400 to be paid by Mr Ong to the Sister in Civil Appeal Nos 95 and 96 of 2014 (“CA 95” and “CA 96”). He filed Summons No 3500 of 2014 (“Summons No 3500”) to merge the two appeals into one proceeding. The Sister applied to strike out CA 95 and CA 96, which was granted by the Court of Appeal on 9 March 2015. The Court of Appeal stated that it “has an inherent jurisdiction to strike out an appeal that is bound to fail” and the appellate court “[could] see no basis on which [Woo J’s] decision and exercise of discretion can be interfered with and [it] therefore grant[ed] the application to strike out the appeals”.2 No order as to costs of the appeal was made.

Mother’s Estate Proceedings

In 2013, the Sister sought a revocation of Mr Ong’s appointment as executor of their mother’s estate and her own appointment as administrator in Mr Ong’s place in District Court No 483 of 2013 (“DC 483”). DC 483 was heard before District Judge Seah Chi-Ling (“DJ Seah”) who dismissed the suit with costs to be paid by the Sister to Mr Ong. The decision of DJ Seah is reported at Ong Wui Soon v Ong Wui Teck [2015] SGDC 270. The Sister appealed to the High Court in District Court Appeal No 21 of 2015 (“DCA 21”) against the whole of DJ Seah’s decision. Mr Ong filed Originating Summons No 11 of 2016 (“OS 11”) to apply for an order that the Sister apply for an extension of time to serve on him documents in the record of appeal for DCA 21, the service of which was omitted.

After the Sister brought DC 483 but before it was heard, Mr Ong filed Originating Summons No 365 of 2014 (“OS 365”) on 16 April 2014 claiming $75,000 as executor’s commission, and Originating Summons No 763 of 2014 (“OS 763”) on 7 August 2014, claiming, inter alia, that various deductions be made from the beneficiaries’ shares of the mother’s estate, that the Sister pay rent in respect of...

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2 cases
  • Ong Wui Teck v Attorney-General
    • Singapore
    • Court of Three Judges (Singapore)
    • 24 March 2020
    ...guilty of scandalising contempt and contempt in the face of the Court. Her reasons can be found in Attorney-General v Ong Wui Teck [2019] SGHC 30 (“the Contempt Judgment”). The Judge sentenced the appellant to seven days’ imprisonment for the reasons found in Attorney-General v Ong Wui Teck......
  • Attorney-General v Ong Wui Teck
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 10 June 2019
    ...Ang Saw Ean J: Introduction On 13 February 2019, I delivered judgment on liability, reserving sentence in [2019] SGHC 30 (“Liability Judgment”). I found Mr Ong Wui Teck (“Mr Ong”) guilty of contempt in the face of the court as well as contempt by scandalising the judiciary in the various ma......

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