Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party and Others and Another Suit

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeAndrew Phang Boon Leong JA
Judgment Date06 November 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] SGCA 51
Citation[2007] SGCA 51
Defendant CounselThe third defendant in person
Docket NumberSuits Nos 261 and 262 of 2006 (Summonses Nos 1998 and 1997 of 2007),Suits Nos 261 and 262 of 2006 (Summonses Nos 2838 and 2839 of 2006)
Publication Date07 November 2007
Plaintiff CounselDavinder Singh SC, Tan Gim Hai Adrian and Tan Ijin (Drew and Napier LLC)
Date06 November 2007
SubjectNotice,Waiver of deposit sought,Applicable principles,Leave to file notice of appeal out of time,Order 57 rr 3(3), 3(4) Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed),Civil Procedure,Order 3 r 4, O 57 rr 4, 17 Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed),Security deposit,Whether security deposit mandatory,Delay of seven months,Appeals,No good reasons given to delay

6 November 2007

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA (delivering the grounds of decision of the court):

Introduction

1 In Suit No 261 of 2006, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, sued the defendants for defamation. The same defendants were also sued for defamation arising out of the same facts by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the Minister Mentor of Singapore, in Suit No 262 of 2006. The first defendant, the Singapore Democratic Party (“SDP”), is a political party. The second defendant, Ms Chee Siok Chin (“Ms Chee”), is a member of the Central Executive Committee of the SDP and the third defendant, Dr Chee Soon Juan (“Dr Chee”), is its secretary-general. In these grounds of decision, the phrase “the defendants” refers to Ms Chee and Dr Chee only.

2 The plaintiffs in these two suits successfully obtained, on 12 September 2006, summary judgment against the defendants in Summonses Nos 2839 and 2838 of 2006 (“the summary judgment applications”), respectively.

3 In the present proceedings, Dr Chee (“the applicant”) applied under Summonses Nos 1998 and 1997 of 2007 (both filed on 8 May 2007) in respect of the summary judgment awards for (a) an extension of time to file appeals against the decisions and (b) a waiver of the security deposit for the intended appeals. After hearing arguments from the applicant, who appeared in person, and counsel for the plaintiffs, Mr Davinder Singh SC (“Mr Singh”), we dismissed both applications. We now give the detailed grounds for our decision, which will apply to both summonses in the present proceedings.

Background

4 Soon after the plaintiffs filed the summary judgment applications, the defendants, via Originating Summons No 1203 of 2006 (“OS 1203/2006”), sought a declaration that the deletion or repeal of O 14 r 1(2) of the Rules of the Supreme Court 1970 (GN No S 274/1970) was a breach of the principles of natural justice and was therefore unconstitutional. Previously, O 14 r 1(2) did not allow plaintiffs to seek summary judgment for causes of action such as fraud and defamation. This rule was abrogated on 1 August 1991. The hearing of OS 1203/2006 and the summary judgment applications was fixed for 3 August 2006. Mr M Ravi (“Mr Ravi”), who was acting for the defendants in those proceedings, asked the learned judge to recuse himself on the ground of there being a suspicion or likelihood of bias towards him (and not his clients). This allegedly arose because of some previous exchanges between Mr Ravi and the learned judge in an unrelated case in September 2003. The learned judge readily agreed to recuse himself and the applications were adjourned: see Chee Siok Chin v AG [2006] 4 SLR 92.

5 The adjourned applications were then heard by the trial judge (“the Judge”) on 16 August 2006: see Chee Siok Chin v AG [2006] 4 SLR 541. Before dealing with the substantive applications before her, the Judge had to deal with some housekeeping matters. On 11 August 2006, Mr Ravi had written to the Registrar to refix the hearing date of the summary judgment applications to a date in late September. On 15 August 2006, the Registrar replied to Mr Ravi informing him that the hearing date of 16 August 2006 was to stand and that he could make the appropriate application before the Judge at the hearing itself. Before the hearing on 16 August 2006, Mr Ravi filed a notice of appeal in OS 1203/2006 against the Registrar’s decision that OS 1203/2006 be heard together with the summary judgment applications. At the 16 August 2006 hearing, Mr Ravi applied to the Judge for OS 1203/2006 and the summary judgment applications to be adjourned on account of the notice of appeal.

6 While the matter of the adjournment was being dealt with, Mr Ravi made an application for the Judge to recuse herself on the ground of actual bias. This accusation arose out of the manner in which the Judge had conducted the hearing up to that point in time. The Judge dismissed the recusal application. She then ordered that the summary judgment applications be adjourned pending the outcome of the appeal in OS 1203/2006 to a date coinciding with the hearing of that appeal. (However, it later transpired that the defendants did not proceed with the appeal.) Mr Ravi also applied for a stay of OS 1203/2006 pending an appeal against the Judge’s decision not to recuse herself. This application was dismissed. Mr Ravi then applied for OS 1203/2006 to be heard in open court. This, too, was dismissed; the Judge declined to hear the proceedings in such a manner as it was not the normal procedure for originating summonses to be heard in open court (see Chee Siok Chin v AG ([5] supra) at [15]). Mr Ravi conferred briefly with the defendants, and notified the court that they vehemently objected to OS 1203/2006 being heard in chambers and did not wish to “legitimise” (id at [16]) the proceedings. Mr Ravi and the defendants then walked out. The Judge dismissed OS 1203/2006 after considering Mr Ravi’s written submissions and hearing submissions by counsel for the Attorney-General.

7 The summary judgment applications were then fixed to be heard on the morning of 11 September 2006 before the Judge. Mr Singh represented the plaintiffs in these proceedings. The applicant’s then counsel, Mr Ravi, was absent from this hearing, although the applicant himself was present. The applicant informed the court that Mr Ravi was suffering from “physical and mental exhaustion” (see Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party [2007] 1 SLR 675 (“GD”) at [5]) and could not attend court, and, thus, the defendants were seeking an adjournment. As no medical certificate was produced in support of Mr Ravi’s condition, the Judge stood down the hearing till the afternoon so that a medical certificate could be procured.

8 When the hearing resumed at 2.40pm, the applicant produced a note and a medical certificate from a dentist saying that Mr Ravi was unfit for duty on 11 September 2006 due to pericoronitis caused by poor oral hygiene in the area around the lower right wisdom tooth. This was not quite the reason which the applicant had given earlier (which centred on physical and mental exhaustion). Mr Singh pointed out that there were some discrepancies between the medical certificate and the note, and also that they were not in compliance with the requirements of para 13, Part II of the Supreme Court Practice Directions (2006 Ed). The hearing was adjourned to the morning of 12 September 2006 and the Judge directed that Mr Ravi was to attend that hearing. Mr Singh was directed to write to Mr Ravi to inform him of the adjourned hearing and the court’s direction.

9 On 12 September 2006, the applicant again appeared alone at the hearing without Mr Ravi. Ms Chee joined the proceedings later. The applicant informed the court that Mr Ravi would not be attending the hearing as he was still unwell. However, the applicant did not produce a medical certificate to substantiate this claim. Mr Singh confirmed that he had written to Mr Ravi as directed by the court and that the letter had been hand-delivered to Mr Ravi’s office.

10 The applicant initially asked for an adjournment on the basis that Mr Ravi was unable to attend court. He later said that as he had already discharged Mr Ravi, he needed an adjournment in order to look for a new lawyer. After hearing this, the Judge informed him that she had to hear Mr Singh’s response to the application for an adjournment (“the adjournment application”) before deciding whether to grant it. The applicant objected to this on the basis that he was without legal counsel. After a brief conference with Ms Chee outside the chambers, the applicant and Ms Chee announced that they did not wish to take any further part in the proceedings without legal counsel and walked out. The Judge then heard Mr Singh’s objections in the absence of the defendants and dismissed the adjournment application. She proceeded to hear Mr Singh’s substantive submissions on the summary judgment applications. Interlocutory judgment with damages to be assessed was granted to the plaintiffs for both applications at the end of the hearing. The Judge’s written grounds for her decision on both the adjournment application and the summary judgment applications were delivered on 1 December 2006: see GD ([7] supra).

11 On 27 September 2006, the applicant wrote to the Chief Justice of Singapore. He described the events at the 12 September 2006 hearing and noted that the Judge had ruled in the plaintiffs’ favour. The letter is an important one, and is therefore set out in full, as follows:

27 September 2006

Mr Chan Sek Keong
Chief Justice
Supreme Court
Republic of Singapore

Dear Sir,

In the recent summary judgment hearing presided by Judge Belinda Ang on 12 September 2006 in the matter of Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsieng Loong v. Chee Siok Chin and Chee Soon Juan (Suit Nos. 261 and 262 of 2006), Ms Chee and I were not represented by counsel.

Before the proceedings began, we had informed Judge Ang that our counsel, Mr M Ravi, was not well and that we needed time for him to recover. The Plaintiffs lawyer, Mr Davinder Singh, insisted that our application was nothing but a ploy to delay the hearing. Judge Ang sided with Mr Singh and rejected our application.

This being the case, we then asked to discharge Mr Ravi as our lawyer as he could not continue arguing our matter and to have a two-week adjournment for us to find another lawyer.

Again, Mr Singh objected and again Ms Belinda Ang sided with him. The summary judgement hearing thus proceeded without us having legal representation. Ms Ang ruled in the Lees’ favour. All this was done in her chambers away from the media and public.

Mr Ravi has now been hospitalized. A medical certificate from the hospital has already been produced in court. Given his illness, Mr Ravi was also unable to represent his other clients in three other cases.

It is clear that Judge Ang was wrong not to allow our counsel time to recover or to give us time to try to find...

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