Chee Siok Chin and Others v Minister for Home Affairs and Another

JudgeV K Rajah J
Judgment Date07 December 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] SGHC 216
Docket NumberOriginating Motion No 39 of 2005 (Summons in Chambers No 5162 of 2005)
Date07 December 2005
Published date12 February 2014
Plaintiff CounselFirst applicant in person
Citation[2005] SGHC 216
Defendant CounselM Ravi s/o Madasamy (M Ravi and Co),Jeffrey Chan and Teh Hwee Hwee (Attorney-General's Chambers)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterCivil Procedure,Section 40 Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap 184, 1997 Rev Ed),Protestors commencing applications for declarations by originating motion and failing to name proper party to action,Article 14 Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1999 Rev Ed), s 40 Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap 184, 1997 Rev Ed),"necessary or expedient",Police ordering "peaceful" protestors to disperse and seizing protest paraphernalia,Article 14(2) Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1999 Rev Ed),Whether discretionary power of police under Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act to deal with protestors exercised arbitrarily or improperly,Constitution,Whether police contravening protestors' constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, expression and speech by exercising discretionary power to deal with protestors under Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act,Sections 13A, 13B, 40 Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap 184, 1997 Rev Ed),Whether proceedings should be struck out for being vexatious, frivolous and/or an abuse of process of court,Order 2 r 1(2), O 15 r 6, O 18 r 19 Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2004 Rev Ed), s 19 Government Proceedings Act (Cap 121, 1985 Rev Ed),Striking out,"offending in his view",Administrative Law,Judicial review,Words and Phrases,Constitutional Law,"threatening", "insulting", "harassment", "annoying",Whether proceedings should be struck out on sole ground that protestors might be prosecuted,Whether such procedural irregularities forming grounds for striking out applications,Sections 13A, 13B Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap 184, 1997 Rev Ed),"person",Section 2 Interpretation Act (Cap 1, 2002 Rev Ed),Protestors applying for declaration that respondents acting in unlawful and/or "unconstitutional manner" in ordering them to disperse and seizing protest paraphernalia,Interpretation,Whether provisions of Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act contravening constitutional rights under Art 14(1) of Constitution,Protestors applying for declarations that respondents acting in unlawful and/or "unconstitutional manner" in ordering them to disperse and seizing protest paraphernalia

7 December 2005

Judgment reserved.

V K Rajah J:

1 In these proceedings, several interesting procedural and substantive issues have been raised. These issues converge in the following circumstances. The applicants seek declarations to vindicate their alleged constitutional rights of assembly and freedom of speech. The respondents on the other hand in addition to raising threshold procedural objections, also allege that the proceedings ought to be struck out on the basis that they are vexatious, frivolous and/or an abuse of process.

2 The issues raised include:

(a) the circumstances in which a civil court can hear a matter which has a close nexus to a pending criminal investigation;

(b) whether groups of four or less persons have an absolute legal immunity to act with impunity in assembling and expressing their views;

(c) the discretionary powers available to the police in dealing with persons suspected of offending salient provisions of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap 184, 1997 Rev Ed) (“MOA”); and

(d) the circumstances in which the exercise of a statutory discretion and/or power by the police can be reviewed.

In the ultimate analysis, the overarching issue is what the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1999 Rev Ed) (“the Constitution”) considers “necessary or expedient” so as to strike a balance between the exercise of certain individual rights on the one hand and the perceived wider public interest on the other hand. In this context, do the applicants have a legitimate legal grievance?

3 While the real legal issues fall within a fairly narrow compass, both for the sake of completeness and out of deference to counsel’s industry, I shall address all the points raised, including the ambit of the constitutional right of assembly.

4 Given that some of the issues raised are both complex and involved, it may be helpful at this juncture to outline the structure of the judgment. I address the various issues raised in the following schematic arrangement:

(a) Factual matrix [6] – [16]

(b) The procedural irregularities [17] – [27]

(i) Inappropriate originating process [17] – [20]

(ii) Wrong parties sued [21] – [27]

(c) Principles governing striking out [28] – [38]

(i) Frivolous or vexatious [37]

(ii) Abuse of process [38]

(d) Application of striking-out principles to the present case [39] – [40]

(e) Constitutionality of the MOA [41] – [56]

(f) A vignette of the rival contentions [57] – [59]

(g) Overview of the MOA [60] – [92]

(i) Relevant provisions of the MOA [63] – [87]

(ii) The power of arrest under the MOA [88] – [92]

(h) Reviewing the exercise of police powers [93] – [106]

(i) Analysis of the applicants’ substantive case [107] – [129]

(i) The preliminary issues [108] – [115]

(ii) The principal controversy [116] – [129]

(j) Conclusion [130] – [139]

5 As there are broad and apparent similarities between some of the applicable statutory provisions and corresponding legislation in other jurisdictions, I take the liberty, from time to time, of adopting a comparative approach in examining the legal position. I also explain why some of the more recent English decisions on public order issues exert neither persuasive nor logical force given that they both reflect and apply legal and political considerations that do not and cannot extend to Singapore. It is evident that the infiltration of European law into English law has significantly reshaped English legal contours in this particular area.

Factual matrix

6 The applicants are self-professed political activists. The respondents are the Minister for Home Affairs and the Commissioner of Police. In these proceedings, commenced by way of an originating motion filed on 30 September 2005, the applicants seek the following declarations:

(1) a declaration that the Respondents acted in an unlawful and unconstitutional manner when the Applicants were ordered to disperse by the police during a peaceful protest outside the Central Provident Fund Building, Robinson Road on 11 August 2005; and

(2) a declaration that the seizure of the items by police on 11th August 2005 as specified in the affidavit herein from the Applicants during the said event was unconstitutional and the Respondents be directed to return the said items to the Applicants.

7 On 7 October 2005, the Attorney-General (“AG”), on behalf of the respondents, filed a summons in chambers application to strike out the entire proceedings on the basis that the proceedings are irregular, scandalous, frivolous or vexatious and/or that they are an abuse of the process of court. The AG has, however, not filed any affidavit disputing the applicants’ affidavit of alleged facts. Instead, he has filed an affidavit exhibiting downloads from the website of a political party, the Singapore Democratic Party (“SDP”) and contends that the downloads incontrovertibly demonstrate that these proceedings constitute political theatre engineered and stage-managed by the SDP and the applicants.

8 The proceedings arise as a consequence of an incident involving the three applicants and another fellow traveller on 11 August 2005. On that day, at about 12.30pm, the applicants held what they describe as a “peaceful protest” at the walkway leading to the Central Provident Fund Building (“CPF Building”) at Robinson Road. Each of them wore white T-shirts inscribed with various words in red both on the front and back.

9 Chee Siok Chin (“Chee”) and Yap Keng Ho (“Yap”) wore T-shirts with the words “National Reserves” and “HDB GIC” inscribed on either side. N Gogelavany (“Gogelavany”) and Tan Teck Wee (“Tan”) wore T-shirts with the words “Be Transparent Now” and “NKF CPF” inscribed on either side. Tan, however, is not a participant in these proceedings. In this judgment I shall hereinafter collectively and interchangeably refer to the applicants and Tan as “the protestors”.

10 The protestors stood in a row along the walkway. Yap held up a placard which read “Singaporeans spend on HDB; whole earnings on CPF; life savings – but cannot withdraw when they need” above his head. Tan held up a transparency sheet with the word “Accountability” written in Chinese.

11 Soon after, a number of journalists congregated around the protestors and posed queries. Gogelavany and Chee responded. Gogelavany also handed out copies of a press statement they had prepared, the contents of which, however, have not been adduced in the applicants’ affidavit. After fielding the press queries, the protestors remained on the walkway. At approximately 1.00pm they turned to face the CPF Building with their backs to the main road.

12 At about 1.15pm, several police cars and riot police vans arrived at the scene. Riot police armed with shields, batons and helmets then positioned themselves a few feet away from the protestors. In addition, about 20 uniformed policemen and women observed the “silent protest”.

13 A senior police officer, Deputy Superintendent Dominic J Baptist (“DSP Baptist”) subsequently approached the protestors and attempted to ascertain who was “in charge”. They replied “we all [are]”. DSP Baptist then told them that they were to disperse immediately. The protestors questioned the basis for the dispersal request. DSP Baptist responded that he had received a telephone call complaining that they were creating a public nuisance. The protestors persisted, seeking the legal basis for the dispersal order. DSP Baptist stated that the offence was one of public nuisance under the MOA. The protestors allege that DSP Baptist also asserted that the “gathering constituted a [seizable] offence and that [they] could be arrested”. DSP Baptist sought further clarification, asking the protestors if they were connected to certain “booksellers” selling books nearby. They replied in the negative, assuring DSP Baptist that they would leave the scene in a few minutes. DSP Baptist walked away. About a minute later the protestors walked to the back of the CPF Building where they removed their T-shirts. The police then approached them, requesting for their identity cards. Having recorded the protestors’ particulars, the police asked the protestors to hand over their T-shirts and placards for “purposes of investigation”. When one of them enquired whether the items would be returned, an officer replied “maybe”. The protestors duly handed the items to the police and left. It is undisputed that no force was used in the course of the incident. Nor was there any suggestion of any potential violence that might lead to a breach of peace.

14 The AG contends that the application is procedurally irregular as the mode of commencement adopted by the applicants, namely by way of an originating motion, is incorrect; it is further contended that whenever a declaration is sought, the proceedings ought to be commenced by way of either a writ or originating summons. Furthermore, in the light of s 19(3) of the Government Proceedings Act (Cap 121, 1985 Rev Ed) (“GPA”) it is the AG and not the present respondents who should have been properly named as the respondent.

15 Mr Jeffrey Chan, on behalf of the AG, accepts however that these irregularities can be cured and should not inexorably result in the striking out of the entire proceedings. That concession apart, he maintains that there is absolutely no merit in the substance of the proceedings and therefore invites the court to strike out the entire proceedings. In support of his application to strike out the entire proceedings, he contends that the alleged complaints against the police conduct during the incident which form the crux of the applicants’ case are legally unsustainable and doomed to failure. He robustly contends that the applicants have no cause to complain about the police in relation to the incident; the police were factually and legally both entitled and empowered to ask the protestors to leave the scene as well as to seize the T-shirts.

16 Mr M Ravi, on behalf of the second and third applicants,...

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