Chee Siok Chin and Another v Attorney-General

JudgeBelinda Ang Saw Ean J
Judgment Date13 September 2006
Neutral Citation[2006] SGHC 153
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 1017 of,Originating Summons No 1203 of 2006,Originating Summons No 1203 of
Date13 September 2006
Published date15 September 2006
Plaintiff CounselM Ravi (M Ravi & Co)
Citation[2006] SGHC 153
Defendant CounselJeffrey Chan (Attorney-General's Chambers)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterCivil Procedure,Courts and Jurisdiction,Judges,Natural justice,Constitutional Law,Whether originating summons should be heard in open court rather than in judge's chambers on ground that proceedings raising constitutional issues of public interest and involving defamation suits by politicians,Whether circumstances of actual bias existing,Application for judge to recuse herself on ground of actual bias,Originating processes,Whether repeal of provision precluding plaintiffs in fraud and defamation cases from obtaining summary judgment unconstitutional and breaching principles of natural justice,Order 14 r 1(2) Rules of the Supreme Court 1970 (GN No S 274/1970), Rules of the Supreme Court (Amendment No 2) Rules 1991 (GN No S 281/1991),Right to fair hearing

13 September 2006

Belinda Ang Saw Ean J:

1 This Originating Summons No 1203 of 2006 (“the OS”) was brought by the plaintiffs, Chee Siok Chin (“CSC”) and Chee Soon Juan (“CSJ”), against the Attorney-General of Singapore as defendant for a declaratory order in terms that the deletion or repeal of O 14 r 1(2) of the Rules of the Supreme Court 1970 (GN No S 274/1970) (“RSC 1970”) by way of the Rules of the Supreme Court (Amendment No 2) Rules 1991 (GN No S 281/1991) (“the 1991 amendments”) be declared unconstitutional and in breach of the principles of natural justice. The plaintiffs and their counsel walked out of the chambers hearing of the OS on 16 August 2006. That came about soon after the court turned down the plaintiffs’ oral application to hear the OS in open court. Even so, the OS was not withdrawn and the plaintiffs’ counsel, Mr M Ravi, invited the court to consider his written submissions tendered earlier. I dismissed the OS on its merits and ordered the plaintiffs to pay the defendant’s costs.

2 Before coming to the reasons for the dismissal of the OS, it is appropriate as background that I first recount the case management decisions taken during housekeeping as well as explain my decision to dismiss the plaintiffs’ recusal application. A convenient starting point would be the plaintiffs’ application to adjourn the hearing of the OS and two other summonses for summary judgment which were listed for hearing on 16 August 2006 at 10.00am. The summonses were Summons No 2838 of 2006 filed in Suit No 261 of 2006 (commenced by Lee Hsien Loong against CSC and CSJ as second and third defendants respectively) (“Suit 261/2006”) and Summons No 2839 of 2006 filed in Suit No 262 of 2006 (commenced by Lee Kuan Yew against CSC and CSJ as second and third defendants respectively) (“Suit 262/2006”). For convenience, Suit 261/2006 and Suit 262/2006 are hereafter referred to as “the defamation actions”.

3 Present in Chamber 5A for housekeeping matters were Mr Ravi, Mr Kao Wen Shen, a student on attachment to Mr Ravi’s firm, and the plaintiffs. Mr Kao and the plaintiffs were allowed to sit in with leave of the court. Mr Jeffrey Chan Wah Teck appeared for the Attorney-General in the OS. Also present was Mr Davinder Singh SC and his assistant, Ms Tan Siu Lin. Mr Singh is the counsel for Lee Hsien Loong, the plaintiff in Suit 261/2006, and Lee Kuan Yew, the plaintiff in Suit 262/2006. Mr Ravi also represents CSC and CSJ in the defamation actions.

4 One particular housekeeping matter which was brought to my attention before the chambers hearing was Mr Ravi’s request to re-fix the O 14 hearing date of both defamation actions. The other related to a clarification, which the court wanted from Mr Ravi, as to whether he intended to raise, as a preliminary point at the hearing of the O 14 summonses, the issues in the OS. If so, in practical terms, appropriate case management directions would have to be given. Following my enquiry, Mr Ravi confirmed that the issues in the OS would not be raised at the O 14 hearing.

5 As I mentioned, Mr Ravi had earlier written to the Registrar on 11 August 2006 to re-fix the hearing date of the O 14 summonses to a date in late September. Mr Singh objected to this in his letter of the same date. The High Court Registry kept to the fixture and asked the parties on 15 August 2006 to make the necessary application to the judge hearing the matters. That, to my knowledge, was the state of play. It subsequently transpired that before the 10.00am hearing, Mr Ravi filed a notice of appeal in the OS to a judge of the High Court in chambers (“the Notice of Appeal”), a copy of which was extended to the court in chambers. By the Notice of Appeal, CSC and CSJ were appealing against the decision of the Registrar made on 15 August 2006 for the OS and O 14 summonses to be heard simultaneously. Understandably, at that very early stage of filing, no hearing date had been assigned and the Notice of Appeal could not be formally served on the Attorney-General. I understand that Mr Singh was given a copy of the Notice of Appeal outside Chamber 5A.

6 Mr Ravi applied for the OS and O 14 summonses to be adjourned on account of this Notice of Appeal. Mr Singh objected to an adjournment. His understanding was that the OS and O 14 summonses were to be heard sequentially. Mr Chan also objected to the adjournment of the OS, and his assessment of the Notice of Appeal, from his perspective as a “seasoned campaigner before the courts”, was that it was a non-issue. Evidently, Mr Ravi did not take kindly to that comment. Mr Ravi’s retort at the very start of his turn to reply was that, unlike Mr Chan, he was a “seasoned campaigner of human rights”. This was followed by a short outburst between Mr Chan and Mr Ravi. Mr Chan took exception to Mr Ravi’s remarks which Mr Chan felt was a personal attack. Whilst they were engaged in an exchange with each other, I directed Mr Ravi to continue with his reply submissions, whereupon he promptly accused the court of being biased and asked that I recuse myself from sitting in all matters. I then asked Mr Ravi to state the grounds of his recusal application. He straightaway stated that the court had allowed Mr Chan to interrupt him when it was his turn to speak. By not stopping Mr Chan, the court was biased. He then sought permission to speak with his clients outside chambers. I allowed his request. After conferring with his clients, Mr Ravi renewed the application, asking me to recuse myself from sitting because of actual bias. On this occasion, he cited the following incidents as circumstances in support of the recusal application:

(a) The OS should be dealt with first. Housekeeping matters in relation to the OS and the O 14 summonses should not be heard together. In so doing, the court was biased. Furthermore, housekeeping matters should be held in open court.

(b) Despite objections to Mr Singh being present in chambers, he was still allowed to sit in chambers and to even raise objections on the Notice of Appeal.

(c) Mr Ravi was interrupted by Mr Chan and when Mr Ravi was appealing to the court to stop Mr Chan, the court instead chose to “tick [Mr Ravi] off”.

(d) The court had prejudged the Notice of Appeal. It was said that I shook my head when Mr Ravi was handing to me the Notice of Appeal.

7 In my judgment, the circumstances cited as relevant to the issue of actual bias were entirely frivolous and ludicrous. The first factor had to do with the court not splitting the housekeeping matters. It bears noting that Mr Ravi was seeking to adjourn the hearing date of both the OS and O 14 summonses. The Notice of Appeal, which was filed in the OS, was the sole reason for the adjournment sought by the plaintiffs. Furthermore, Mr Ravi had made no application for housekeeping matters to be heard in open court. Both Mr Chan and Mr Singh confirmed my understanding of the situation. Above all, it is the discretion of this court to regulate its own method of case management or housekeeping. The second factor was the presence of Mr Singh in chambers for housekeeping. At the outset, Mr Singh had informed me of his interest in the Notice of Appeal as it concerned the O 14 summonses and that Mr Ravi had agreed to Mr Singh being present in chambers in connection with Mr Ravi’s application to adjourn the O 14 summonses. Mr Ravi did not disillusion Mr Singh of his understanding. In what I see as simply factitious, Mr Ravi claimed that whilst he was agreeable to Mr Singh being present, his clients were the ones who were protesting. In any case, Mr Singh had an interest in being present and to be heard on Mr Ravi’s application for an adjournment, a matter to which Mr Singh had made known his objections as early as 11 August 2006. The complaint that I had allowed Mr Singh to comment on the merits of the Notice of Appeal is again unfounded. Mr Singh had wanted to comment on the Notice of Appeal, but I did not think it was necessary and I told him so. Turning to the allegation that I had allowed Mr Chan to interrupt Mr Ravi instead of reprimanding Mr Chan, as stated in [6] above, I directed Mr Ravi to continue with his reply submissions. My direction (and it was similarly understood by Mr Chan) was a polite way of stopping the bickering and was a signal for the proceedings to resume. Finally, on the allegation that I shook my head when Mr Ravi was handing over the Notice of Appeal, his contention was that the court had prejudged the Notice of Appeal and that to the plaintiffs was evidence of “a prejudicial judicial temperament”. In other words, that particular head movement had a visible stamp of actual bias; I was affected by actual bias.

8 I note that Mr Ravi, who was looking at me when he handed the Notice of Appeal over, was not himself claiming that he had seen me shake my head. Mr Chan said he did not notice it. I was certainly not conscious that I shook my head. It was something told to Mr Ravi by his clients. To that unusual contention, I will say this in its context. It bears noting that I had earlier stopped Mr Singh from commenting on the merits of the Notice of Appeal. Mr Singh had wanted the Notice of Appeal heard immediately. Had I prejudged the Notice of Appeal as alleged, I would have gone along with Mr Singh and Mr Chan to hear the Notice of Appeal straightaway, rather than continue to hear out Mr Ravi on his application for an adjournment. I was of the view that, as the Notice of Appeal had only just been filed, it should be allowed to take its course. The hearing for an adjournment was abruptly interrupted by the recusal application. After the recusal application was rejected, I ordered an adjournment of the O 14 summonses pending the outcome of the Notice of Appeal. The hearing date of the O 14 summonses was to coincide with the hearing date of the Notice of Appeal. Pausing for a moment, I should mention that I have since learnt of the plaintiffs’ decision, made after the hearing...

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2 books & journal articles
  • Administrative and Constitutional Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2006, December 2006
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