Singapore Amateur Athletics Association v Haron bin Mundir

JudgeKarthigesu JA
Judgment Date10 November 1993
Neutral Citation[1993] SGCA 79
Date10 November 1993
Subject MatterCourt's role only to examine correctness of decision-making process, not the decision itself,Duty to act fairly,Administrative Law,Judicial review,Suspension of member,Unincorporated Associations and Trade Unions,Friendly societies,Disputes,Suspension of respondent by appellants after disciplinary hearing,Court's review of decision of domestic tribunal,Whether rules of natural justice breached,Inquiry by disciplinary sub-committee,Natural justice
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 145 of 1991
Published date19 September 2003
Defendant CounselEdmond Pereira (Edmond Pereira & Pnrs)
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Plaintiff CounselTan Soo Kiang (Wee Swee Teow & Co)

Cur Adv Vult

This is an appeal against the judgment of the learned judicial commissioner GP Selvam dated 16 September 1991, whereby he declared invalid a decision made by the management committee of the appellants suspending the respondent (`Haron`) from taking part in all track and field activities for a period of 18 months, and granted an injunction restraining the appellants from acting on the decision. [See Haron bin Mundir v Singapore Amateur Athletics Association [1992] 1 SLR 18 .]

The facts

The appellants are a society registered under the Societies Act (Cap 311). They have as one of their objects the advancement, promotion, organization and control of amateur athletics. They have as their affiliates the various athletics clubs and associations in Singapore. Individual athletes as such cannot be members of the appellants, although selected individuals may be admitted as honourary members.

The appellants` affairs are managed by a management committee.
The constitution of the appellants confers on the management committee the power to control and discipline individual athletes. In matters of discipline, the management committee acts on the recommendation of the disciplinary committee. It is specifically provided in r 13(i) of the constitution that the management committee may suspend for a stated period, indefinitely or permanently anyone found guilty of misbehaviour or unfair practice.

The president of the appellants heads the management committee.
At all material times that office was occupied by Mr Loh Lin Kok, a practising lawyer. The management committee included three vice-presidents and an honorary secretary. The decision makers in the management committee are all volunteers from various walks of life who are interested in the promotion of sports in Singapore. At the material time, Mr Maurice Nicholas was one of the vice-presidents. He was also the chairman of the selection and training committee. He is a veteran of amateur athletics in Singapore, much dedicated to the movement. He was the longest serving member on the management committee. Capt Selvarajan, a regular officer in the Singapore Armed Forces, was also a member of the management committee. He was the secretary of the selection and training committee.

The South East Asian Games (`SEA Games`) are a major regional event.
The Olympic Council of Singapore is the final authority for the selection of participants from Singapore. The appellants have the power of, and responsibility for, selecting and submitting names of athletes to the Olympic Council. The training and selection committee is in charge of identifying athletes as candidates.

Haron, the undisputed national champion in the 100, 200 and 400 metre track events, had represented Singapore at various national and international competitions since 1983.
He was a member of the Flash Athletics Club, an affiliate of the appellants from 1968. His coach was Mr Lim Hong Kang, an army officer with a love for athletics. He had been training Haron since 1980. It is fair to say that Haron was much closer to Lim than to anyone from the appellants.

The 1989 SEA Games were scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur in August of that year.
Maurice Nicholas, as the head of the selection and training sub-committee, had a new idea of improving Singapore`s chances at the games. His plans were to select athletes early, well before the event. Haron was one of those who attracted his particular attention. Mr Nicholas saw in Haron the potential of a gold medal winner. He was interested in doing something to develop Haron. He thought the best thing to do would be for Haron to be prepared in Singapore and then given exposure to competition with athletes abroad. Lim had a similar idea. He suggested a competition trip for Haron to the United States.

Nicholas set about realizing these plans.
The United States was too expensive. He decided to try Japan. On a trip to Japan in January 1989, Maurice Nicholas met the chief athletic coach of Japan. He managed with some difficulty to get the Japanese to agree to allowing Haron to take part in their national championship competitions. He also agreed conditions with them for Haron`s stay in Japan. It was to be for three months. He came back and told Lim.

It is evident that Nicholas took a great deal of trouble to make these contacts and get the Japanese to take Haron.
However, contrary to Nicholas` expectations, Haron was not so keen on going to Japan. Being a devout Muslim, one of his main worries was about the kind of food available. He had taken a year`s leave from work to train for the games, and was anxious to make sure that his time was put to the best use. He was apprehensive about a repetition of his experience the year before when he had been sent to Taiwan for training and had had problems with the non-Muslim diet. He had fallen ill and had to cut short his stay. He was also hoping for a training trip to the United States. Haron told his coach Lim about his reservations. Lim asked Nicholas, who had all the details, to try to persuade Haron to go.

On 12 March 1989, at the All Comers Meet at the National University of Singapore, Haron and his coach met Nicholas.
Haron told Nicholas about his reservations. Nicholas told him that Don Quarrie, a former Olympic sprinter from Jamaica, would be in Japan at the same time and would give him training. This was a great attraction for Haron. He was told also that all arrangements had been made, particularly those to accommodate his Muslim dietary requirements. Instead of three months, it was also agreed that it would be only five weeks. Haron was thus persuaded to go to Japan.

However, based on an interview with Haron before his meeting with Nicholas, the newspaper, The New Paper, carried a report on 13 March that Haron had reservations about the proposed trip.
He was reported as saying that he would return early if he found the conditions in Japan unsuitable.

After the publication of this report, the appellants` management committee met on 16 March to consider the proposed trip.
Nicholas was not present and was not able to brief the management committee on his meeting with Haron. The appellants` president, Mr Loh Lin Kok, voiced his concern that as Haron had returned early from his trip to Taiwan, he might do so again if sent to Japan. It was decided to seek clarifications from Haron before taking a final decision concerning the proposed trip.

The management committee met again on 13 April.
Nicholas was present, and explained that he and Lim had allayed Haron`s fears and he had Haron`s assurance that he would not return prematurely without the permission of the appellants. Nicholas also told the management committee that Haron would be taking part in five competitions in Japan and would be coached by Don Quarrie and Willie Banks, who would also be in Japan. These were big names in international athletics.

Arrangements for Haron`s trip were then finalized with the Japanese Amateur Athletic Federation (`JAAF`).
Haron left for Japan on 19 April. He was not due to return until 23 May.

Haron, however, left Japan on 24 April, only five days after he arrived.
He arrived in Singapore in the early hours of 25 April. He saw his coach, Lim, later in the morning of that day, but did not get in touch with anyone from the appellants. The press, however, contacted him and he told them why he had come back. He complained that Don Quarrie was not there, contrary to what he had been led to expect. He complained about the food. There was no Western food, and he had to get his own food from a machine. The instructions were all in Japanese. On one occasion, he found bacon in his soup and had nearly committed the ultimate offence of eating it. He had from then on to be contented with instant noodles. He also complained that he had not received a single day`s training during the time he was in Japan. He also reiterated his previous stand that he had been reluctant to go to Japan in the first place, but had been assured by Maurice Nicholas that his food, accommodation and training programme had been properly arranged. Haron`s interview was carried by the press on 26 April. On the same day, the press also carried comments by Mr Loh Lin Kok on the affair. From the press reports, Loh was clearly upset about Haron`s premature return. He saw this as nothing but a repetition of Haron`s early return from Taiwan the previous year. Loh was also sensitive to having been made to look foolish in the eyes of the Japanese. He was reported to have described the episode as an `international fiasco`. He immediately sent an apology to the president of the JAAF. He also asked the latter to let him have a report on Haron`s stay in Japan.

Loh asked Nicholas and Selvarajan to find out from Haron what had happened in Japan.
On 26 April, Haron and Lim met Nicholas and Selvarajan in Nicholas` office. At this meeting, Haron was chastised for not having stayed on in Japan and for having given up so easily. However, both gentlemen were anxious to salvage the situation. They still needed Haron for the forthcoming games as a gold medal prospect. But they must also have realized that it was necessary to placate Loh. They were minded to write a letter of appeal to Loh. They thought it would help matters if Haron were to write letters of apology to the JAAF and the appellants. Lim thought so too, and after the meeting he helped by drafting the letters to the presidents of the two associations, Haron himself not being proficient enough in English.

Haron also gave a written day-to-day account of his stay in Japan.
Selvarajan and Nicholas then wrote a three-page letter to Loh. They obviously took great pains at crafting the letter. They enclosed the two letters of apology, adding that they believed Haron was sincere in his apology. Using language which was conciliatory and sympathetic (to Haron and Loh) they appealed to Loh to be magnanimous and asked that no disciplinary...

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