Attorney-General v Tee Kok Boon

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeWoo Bih Li J
Judgment Date28 December 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] SGHC 226
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 1069 of 2007
Date28 December 2007
Published date17 March 2008
Year2007
Plaintiff CounselSolicitor-General Walter Woon Cheong Ming and Hay Hung Chun (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Citation[2007] SGHC 226
Defendant CounselGregory Vijayendran, Dawn Wee and Melvin Lum (Rajah & Tann)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterWhether High Court having power under its inherent jurisdiction to make restraining order against vexatious litigants,Whether s 74(1) of Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed) applying to proceedings in Court of Appeal and interlocutory proceedings,Civil Procedure,Pleadings,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Criminal Law,Statutory Interpretation,Whether s 74(1) of Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed) applying to criminal proceedings,Courts and Jurisdiction,Application of s 74(1) of Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed),Jurisdiction,Whether defendant had habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground instituted vexatious legal proceedings

28 December 2007

Judgment reserved.

Woo Bih Li J:

Introduction

1 This is an application by the Attorney-General for an order against the defendant Tee Kok Boon (“Tee”) pursuant to s 74(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322) (“SCJA”) for an order to restrain Tee from instituting legal proceedings without the leave of the High Court. The relief sought in the application was couched in wide terms, that is,

“No legal proceedings shall without the leave of the High Court be instituted by [Tee] in any court; and that any legal proceedings instituted by the said [Tee] in any court before the making of the order shall not be continued by him without such leave, and such leave shall not be given unless the High Court is satisfied that the proceedings are not an abuse of the process of the court and that there is prima facie ground for the proceedings”.

The ground for the application was that Tee has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground instituted vexatious legal proceedings.

2 The order sought by the application and the ground relied upon follow s 74(1) which states:

74. – (1) If, on an application made by the Attorney-General, the High Court is satisfied that any person has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground instituted vexatious legal proceedings, whether in the High Court or in any subordinate court, and whether against the same person or against different persons, the High Court may, after hearing that person or giving him an opportunity of being heard, order that –

(a) no legal proceedings shall without the leave of the High Court be instituted by him in any court; and

(b) any legal proceedings instituted by him in any court before the making of the order shall not be continued by him without such leave, and such leave shall not be given unless the High Court is satisfied that the proceedings are not an abuse of the process of the court and that there is prima facie ground for the proceedings.

3 I should add that s 74(3) SCJA states: “No appeal shall lie from an order under subsection (1) refusing leave for institution or continuance of legal proceedings”.

4 The Attorney-General was represented by the Solicitor-General and Tee was represented by assigned counsel, Mr Gregory Vijayendran. At the hearing of the application, the Solicitor-General also relied on the inherent jurisdiction of the court to obtain the relief sought.

Background

5 Tee was at all material times a property agent with O K Property Pte Ltd (“O K Property”). In 2001, he had secured a tenant for a property belonging to one Mdm Heng Siew Ang (“Mdm Heng”). However, a dispute arose as to whether commission of $2,200 was payable by Mdm Heng to O K Property for services rendered by Tee. O K Property sought to recover the commission in the Small Claims Tribunal (“the Tribunal”). Tee testified that he had witnessed Mdm Heng sign a letter of undertaking dated 26 November 2001 under which Mdm Heng purportedly agreed to pay the disputed commission. Mdm Heng then lodged a police report on 18 May 2002 stating that she believed her signature was forged. On 24 May 2002, the Tribunal ruled against Mdm Heng holding that there was no evidence to show that her signature was forged and therefore, she was liable to pay the commission. Investigations were undertaken on Mdm Heng’s police report and eventually Tee was charged with giving false evidence at the Tribunal, that is, by stating that he had witnessed Mdm Heng sign the letter of undertaking which he knew to be false as he did not witness her signing that document. The offence was punishable under s 193 of the Penal Code, Cap 224 and he was tried by the District Court.

6 According to the judgment of the District Court, Tee admitted that he had not witnessed Mdm Heng appending her signature on the letter of undertaking. He said that what he had meant to say to the referee of the Tribunal was that he had seen her signature. In other words, he had assumed that Mdm Heng had signed but the act of signing was not done in his presence. The District Court found that Tee had not misunderstood the referee when he gave his response. Tee was convicted and sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment.

7 Tee then filed an appeal against his conviction to the High Court by way of Magistrate’s Appeal No 167 of 2000. By the time his appeal was heard, he had also filed two applications, that is, Criminal Motion No 6 of 2005 (“CM 6/2005”) and Criminal Motion No 8 of 2005 (“CM 8/2005”), which were to be heard together with his appeal. CM 6/2005 was an application to amend his original petition of appeal to include an additional ground, namely, that he did not have a case to answer at the close of the prosecution’s case in the District Court. CM 8/2005 was an application to adduce fresh evidence which was a certified true copy of a classified advertisement in the Straits Times issue of 21 November 2001 and obtained from Singapore Press Holdings Limited. The purpose of that application was to show that an exhibit of a Straits Times advertisement which had been tendered by Mdm Heng and/or her husband Tan Hock Hai (“Tan”) in the District Court proceedings as having been published on 21 November 2001 was not in fact published on that date (“the disputed advertisement”) and to show the actual advertisement published on that date.

8 At the commencement of the hearing of Tee’s appeal in which Tee was represented by counsel, Tee withdrew CM 6/2005. He proceeded with CM 8/2005 and the appeal. Both were dismissed by the High Court on 28 June 2005. After Tee served his sentence, he took various steps as I shall elaborate below.

9 On 9 March 2006, Tee filed Criminal Motion No 5 of 2006 (“CM 5/2006”) for an extension of time to apply for certain questions of law of public interest to be reserved for the decision of the Court of Appeal under s 60(1) SCJA. Under s 60(2), Tee was to have applied within one month of the High Court decision on 28 June 2005 or such longer time as the Court of Appeal might permit. On 27 March 2007, the Court of Appeal dismissed this application. Its judgment is [2006] SGCA 16. I need set out only paragraphs 6 to 9 of that judgment:

6 It appeared that the applicant was aware that to bring an application under s 60(1) he had to show that there was a point of law of public interest to be determined. He set out not one, but 11 alleged points of law in his affidavit, and from each of these points he further subdivided them into almost 40 alleged questions of law. It is not necessary to set out all of them because at this stage, the relevance of a point of law of public interest if it was manifest from the application, would be taken into account in deciding whether to allow the applicant’s extension of time. As it were, none of the questions could be of public interest. There is a clear and strong distinction between a point of law and a point of law of public interest. In the former, the point of law would only be of interest to the applicant himself. A point of law of public interest within the meaning of s 60(1) means a question of law, the determination of which would have a general application to all future cases in which the same point might arise.

7 Indeed, many of the questions raised were questions of fact. A great number of points related to the Small Claims Tribunal’s adjudication in the applicant’s favour in the claim brought by his company against one Mdm Heng Siew Ang (“Mdm Heng”) for commission payable in relation to a tenancy agreement. Mdm Heng had alleged that there existed a co-broking arrangement, but the Small Claims Tribunal found otherwise. It was a letter of undertaking allegedly signed by Mdm Heng, produced and relied upon by the applicant’s company in the proceedings before the Small Claims Tribunal, that became the subject matter of a charge of giving false evidence. The applicant was subsequently charged with falsely testifying before the Small Claims Tribunal that he had witnessed Mdm Heng signing the letter of undertaking. Mdm Heng maintained before the Small Claims Tribunal and the District Court that her signature on the letter of undertaking had been forged. The questions raised as to whether the Small Claims Tribunal or the District Court was right as to whether the letter of undertaking was actually signed by Mdm Heng or whether the applicant had truly seen her sign it, were matters of fact. The applicant further complained of the fact that the District Court had made a ruling against him in spite of the findings by the Small Claims Tribunal in his favour. The applicant appeared not to see that the issues were different. The issues in his criminal trial arose from the events in the Small Claims Tribunal and, therefore, were matters of fact. Furthermore, the issues in his criminal trial and consequently on appeal were very narrow in that they related to the question as to whether he had been rightly charged and convicted of giving false testimony before the Small Claims Tribunal. Another question raised, apparently as to whether the applicant’s statements recorded by the investigating officer, which were admitted as prosecution evidence in his criminal trial, were inconclusive or conflicting statements (Question Three), was also a question of fact.

8 These issues were dealt with at the trial and the applicant’s appeal against the conviction was dismissed by the High Court. Section 60(1) permits a further appeal only on questions of law of public interest. Hence, unless the applicant was able to identify a point of law as such his application for an extension of time would fail on that ground alone.

9 As regards his other questions, even if they could be construed as questions of law, they were questions of law that were not of public interest. They were questions of law that would only be of interest to the applicant alone. For example, in Question One, the applicant queried whether, since the allegation of...

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