Citation(1998) 10 SAcLJ 448
Date01 December 1998
Published date01 December 1998

Knight Glenn Jeyasingam v PP 1 is a much publicised case as is evident from the extent of press coverage given by The Straits Times. Its relevance to the legal fraternity lies in its affirmation of basic principles pertaining to criminal appeals and applications for criminal revision.

By way of background information, the case arose from three criminal charges preferred against Knight in early 1998. These criminal charges relate to Knight’s conduct sometime in November 1989 and sometime in early October 1990. Knight, who had pleaded guilty to two criminal charges in 1991,2 claimed that the criminal proceedings in 1998 should not have been brought since the grant of immunity in 1991 covered the subject matter of the three charges preferred against him in 1998. Knight took out an application to stay the criminal proceedings on the three charges.3

At the trial, both the prosecution and defence agreed that Knight’s application for a stay of the criminal proceedings should be tried as a preliminary issue. Essentially, Knight’s contention was that it was an abuse of process to prosecute him for offences in respect of which he had been granted an immunity from prosecution in 1991. After six days’ of hearing, the district judge dismissed Knight’s application for a stay of the criminal proceedings and ordered the trial to proceed. Knight lodged an appeal against the district judge’s order and for good measure, he also applied for a revision of the district judge’s order refusing the stay of criminal proceedings.

Both the appeal and petition for criminal revision was heard by the learned Chief Justice who dismissed the appeal and the petition for criminal revision.

Power to stay criminal proceedings

At this juncture, it is convenient to deal with the Singapore court’s power to stay criminal proceedings. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act does

not expressly provide for the court’s power to stay criminal proceedings.4 However, it cannot be gainsaid that such power exists because the court possesses the power to control the use of the judicial process. Indeed, there is dicta in PP v Ho So Moi5 to support the existence of an inherent power6 to stay criminal proceedings on the ground that such proceedings are an abuse of process.7

Other jurisdictions recognise that the court has the power to stay criminal proceedings on the ground of abuse of process — see Williams v Spautz.8 This power, according to the High Court of Australia, “arises from the need for the court to be able to exercise effectively the jurisdiction which the court has to dispose of the proceedings.” The power will be exercised where the prosecution is brought for an improper purpose. According to Mason CJ in Williams v Spautz:

“… every court is ‘in duty bound to protect itself against an abuse of its process. In this respect there are two fundamental policy considerations which must be taken into account in dealing with abuse of process in the context of criminal proceedings … The first is that the public interest in the administration of justice requires that the court protects its ability to function as a court of law by ensuring that its processes are used fairly by State and citizen alike. The second is that, unless the court protects its ability so to function in that way, its failure will lead to an erosion of public confidence by reason of concern that the court’s processes may lend themselves to oppression and injustice. As Richardson J observed [in Moevao v Department of Labour[1980] 1 NZLR 464 at 481] the court grants a permanent stay: ‘in order to prevent the criminal processes from

being used for purposes alien to the administration of criminal justice under law. It may intervene in this way if it concludes … that the court processes are being employed for ulterior purposes or in such a way … as to cause improper vexation and oppression.”9

The English cases acknowledge that the court has the power to stay criminal prosecutions on the ground of abuse of process but the “discretion to stay is not a disciplinary jurisdiction and ought not to be exercised in order to express the court’s disapproval of official conduct”.10 In R v Latif,11 the House of Lords considered an application for stay of criminal proceedings on the ground of abuse of process and stated that a court has to weigh countervailing considerations of policy and justice to decide whether there has been an abuse of process “which amounts to an affront to the public conscience and requires criminal proceedings to be stayed.”12 However, as it is evident from Attorney General’s Reference (No 1 of 1990),13 the power of the court to stop a prosecution should be exercised in the most exceptional circumstances.

In Hong Kong, where the position of the Attorney-General (in relation to his discretion to institute criminal proceedings) vis-a-vis judicial power is similar to the position in Singapore, the Court of Appeal in The Queen v Edward Christopher Harris14 accepted that while “The Court could not interfere with the Attorney-General’s discretion to prosecute, but once the charge came before the Court it could consider whether the prosecution should be allowed to continue if grounds amounting to an abuse of process are raised.”15 In The Queen v Edward Christopher Harris, the Attorney-General resiled from a unilateral assurance made to the accused that he would not be prosecuted and in the factual circumstances of that case, the court held that it was not an abuse of process for the Attorney-General to change his mind. It is also worthy of note that Fuad V-P in The Queen v Edward Christopher Harris observed that the Commonwealth cases “demonstrate that in so far as the criminal process

is concerned, the parameters of the power of a court to stay a prosecution otherwise properly brought before it are still unsettled.”16

The approach taken by the Hong Kong Court of Appeal in The Queen v Edward Christopher Harris demonstrates that “While the court must be the master and have the last word [on the use of the legal process] it is only where to countenance the continuation of the prosecution would be contrary to the recognised purposes of the administration of criminal justice that a court would ever be justified in intervening.”17

It is also pertinent to note that the power of the court to stay prosecutions on the ground of abuse of process has also exercised the Privy Council in recent times. In Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago v Phillip and others,18 the Privy Council clearly acknowledged that there may be circumstances justifying the state in not fulfilling the terms of a promise or offer not to prosecute.

The Appeal

In Knight Glenn Jeyasingam v PP, the appeal was dismissed as the order for the trial to proceed was not a final order. In connection with appeals to the High Court from decisions of the subordinate courts, it is trite law that under section 247(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, an appeal is available only where the “judgment, sentence or order” appealed against is a final order. In the felicitous words of Yong...

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