Tan Eng Hong v AG

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
Judgment Date21 Aug 2012
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 50 of 2011

[2012] SGCA 45

Court of Appeal

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA, V K Rajah JA and Judith Prakash J

Civil Appeal No 50 of 2011

Tan Eng Hong
Plaintiff
and
Attorney-General
Defendant

M Ravi (LFViolet Netto) for the appellant

Aedit bin Abdullah SC, Teo Guan Siew, Seow Zhixiang and Serene Chew (Attorney-General's Chambers) for the respondent.

Abdul Razak Ahmad v Majlis Bandaraya Johor Bahru [1995] 2 MLJ 287 (refd)

Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] AC 789 (refd)

Annis bin Abdullah v PP [2003] SGDC 290 (refd)

Annis bin Abdullah v PP [2004] 2 SLR (R) 93; [2004] 2 SLR 93 (refd)

Assa Singh v Mentri Besar, Johore [1969] 2 MLJ 30 (refd)

BSurinder Singh Kanda v The Government of the Federation of Malaya [1962] MLJ 169 (folld)

Birmingham City Council v R [2007] 2 WLR 1130 (refd)

Bowman v Fels [2005] 1 WLR 3083 (refd)

Butterworth & Co (Publishers) Ltd v Ng Sui Nam [1985-1986] SLR (R) 33; [1984-1985] SLR 572 (refd)

Calvin Francis v Orissa 1992 (2) Crimes 455 (refd)

Chan Hiang Leng Colin v Minister for Information and the Arts [1996] 1 SLR (R) 294; [1996] 1 SLR 609 (folld)

Chee Siok Chin v Minister for Home Affairs [2006] 1 SLR (R) 582; [2006] 1 SLR 582 (refd)

Chng Suan Tze v Minister for Home Affairs [1988] 2 SLR (R) 525; [1988] SLR 132 (refd)

Connecticut Fire Insurance Co v Kavanagh [1892] AC 473 (refd)

Croome v The State of Tasmania (1997) 191 CLR 119 (folld)

Dudgeon v The United Kingdom [1981] ECHR 5 (refd)

Eng Foong Ho v AG [2009] 2 SLR (R) 542; [2009] 2 SLR 542 (refd)

Fazal Rab Choudhary v State of Bihar (1982) 3 SCC 9; AIR 1983 SC 323 (refd)

Feoso (Singapore) Pte Ltd v Faith Maritime Co Ltd [2003] 3 SLR (R) 556; [2003] 3 SLR 556 (folld)

Gabriel Peter & Partners v Wee Chong Jin [1997] 3 SLR (R) 649; [1998] 1 SLR 374 (folld)

Goh Koon Suan v Heng Gek Kiau [1990] 2 SLR (R) 705; [1990] SLR 1251 (refd)

Government of Malaysia v Lim Kit Siang [1988] 2 MLJ 12 (refd)

Jamaluddin bin Mohd Radzi v Sivakumar a/l Varatharaju Naidu [2009] 4 MLJ 593 (not folld)

Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin v Lee Kuan Yew [1992] 1 SLR (R) 791; [1992] 2 SLR 310 (refd)

Kang Ngah Wei v Commander of Traffic Police [2002] 1 SLR (R) 14; [2002] 1 SLR 213 (refd)

Karaha Bodas Co LLC v Pertamina Energy Trading Ltd [2006] 1 SLR (R) 112; [2006] 1 SLR 112 (folld)

Leung v Secretary for Justice [2006] 4 HKLRD 211 (folld)

Lo Pui Sang v Mamata Kapildev Dave [2008] 4 SLR (R) 754; [2008] 4 SLR 754 (folld)

Lohana Vasantlal Devchand v The State AIR 1968 Guj 252 (refd)

Lujan, Secretary of the Interior v Defenders of Wildlife et al 504 US 555 (1992) (distd)

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Naz Foundation v Government of NCT of Delhi WP (C) No 7455 of 2001 (2 July 2009) (refd)

Ng Eng Ghee v Mamata Kapildev Dave [2009] 3 SLR (R) 109; [2009] 3 SLR 109 (refd)

Ong Ah Chuan v PP [1979-1980] SLR (R) 710; [1980-1981] SLR 48 (refd)

PP v Knight Glenn Jeyasingam [1999] 1 SLR (R) 1165; [1999] 2 SLR 499 (refd)

PP v Kwan Kwong Weng [1997] 1 SLR (R) 316; [1997] 1 SLR 697 (refd)

R v Greater London Council, ex parte Blackburn [1976] 1 WLR 550 (refd)

R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Salem [1999] 1 AC 450 (folld)

R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Turgut [2001] 1 All ER 719 (distd)

R (Lumba) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] 1 AC 245 (folld)

Ramalingam Ravinthran v AG [2012] 2 SLR 49 (refd)

Rathakrishnan, The Queen on the Application of v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWHC 1406 (Admin) (distd)

Rolls-Royce plc v Unite the Union [2010] 1 WLR 318 (folld)

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Tokai Maru, The [1998] 2 SLR (R) 646; [1998] 3 SLR 105 (folld)

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Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint) Arts 4, 9, 9 (1) , 12, 12 (1) , 14, 14 (1) , 14 (2) (a) , 14 (2) (b) , 14 (2) (c) , 100, 162 (consd) ;Arts 2 (1) , 21, 35 (8) , 38, 58, 93

Interpretation Act (Cap 1, 2002 Rev Ed) ss 2, 9 A, 9 A (1)

Penal Code (Cap 20, 1936 Rev Ed) s 377A

Penal Code (Cap 119, 1955 Rev Ed)

Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) s 377 (consd)

Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) s 377A (consd) ;ss 294 (a) , 376 A, 376 B, 376 C, 376 D, 376 E, 376 F, 376 G, 377 B

Penal Code 1871 (SSOrd No 4 of 1871) s 377

Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007 (Act 51 of 2007)

Penal Code (Amendment) Ordinance 1938 (No 12 of 1938) s 3

Republic of Singapore Independence Act 1965 (Act 9 of 1965) s 6

Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2004 Rev Ed) O 15 r 16

Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) O 15 r 16, O 18 r 19, O 18 r 19 (1) (a) , O 18 r 19 (1) (b) , O 18 r 19 (1) (d) (consd) ;O 18 r 19 (1) (c) , O 53 r 1, O 57 r 9 A (4) (b) , O 57 r 13 (4)

Subordinate Courts Act (Cap 321, 2007 Rev Ed) s 56 A

Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HK)

Constitution of the United States of America Art III s 2

Crimes Ordinance (Cap 200) (HK)

Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance (No 90 of 1991) (HK)

Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c 33) (UK) ss 142, 143

Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 (c 62) (UK)

Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (c 69) (UK) s 11

Federal Constitution (1963) (M'sia) Arts 4, 162, 162 (1) , 162 (6) (consd) ; Arts 140 (1) , 144 (1)

Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap 383) (HK)

Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (c 100) (UK) s 61

Offences Against the Person Ordinance (Cap 212) (HK) ss 49, 51

Penal Code 1860 (Act No 45 of 1860) (India) s 377 (consd)

Police Ordinance 1952 (M'sia) ss 9 (1) , 45 (1)

Sexual Offences Act 1956 (c 69) (UK) ss 12, 12 (1)

Sexual Offences Act 1967 (c 60) (UK) s 1

Civil Procedure—Striking out—Test for striking out—Application for declaration that s 377A Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) was unconstitutional—Attorney-General claiming that applicant had no locus standi—Attorney-General claiming that application disclosed no real controversy—Whether applicant had locus standi and whether application disclosed any real controversy—Section 377A Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed)

Constitutional Law—Equal protection of the law—Application for declaration that s 377A Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) was unconstitutional—Whether there was arguable case that s 377A Penal Code violated Art 12 (1) Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint)—Article 12 (1) Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint)—Section 377A Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed)

Constitutional Law—Fundamental liberties—Application for declaration that s 377A Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) was unconstitutional—Whether there was arguable case that s 377A Penal Code violated Arts 9 (1) and 14 Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint)—Articles 9 (1) and 14 Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint)—Section 377A Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed)

Courts and Jurisdiction—Court judgments—Declaratory—Standing to seek declaratory relief—Applicable test for standing where declaratory relief sought involved constitutional rights

On 9 March 2010, Tan Eng Hong (‘Tan’) and another male person (‘the co-accused’) were arrested for engaging in oral sex in a cubicle in a public toilet of a shopping complex. Both parties are adult males in their forties. Tan and the co-accused were then separately charged under s 377A of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) (‘the Penal Code’) with the commission of an act of gross indecency with another male person.

On 24 September 2010, Tan brought an application (‘the Application’) under O 15 r 16 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2006 Rev Ed) (‘the Rules’) to ask the court to declare s 377A of the Penal Code (‘s 377 A’) unconstitutional under the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint) ( ‘the Constitution’). Tan alleged that s 377A was inconsistent with Arts 9, 12 and 14 of the Constitution (‘Art 9’, ‘Art 12’ and ‘Art 14’ respectively) and was therefore void by virtue of Art 4 of the Constitution (‘Art 4’).

On 15 October 2010, the Prosecution informed Tan that the s 377A charge against him had been substituted with one under s 294 (a) of the Penal Code (‘s 294 (a)’) for the commission of an obscene act in a public place. The charge against the co-accused was similarly substituted.

Tan subsequently pleaded guilty to the substituted charge under s 294 (a)on 15 December 2010, and was convicted and sentenced to a fine of $3,000. The co-accused had earlier pleaded guilty, and had similarly been convicted and sentenced to a fine of $3,000.

Soon after the substitution of the s 377A charge against Tan with the s 294 (a) charge, the Attorney-General (‘the AG’) applied to strike out the Application pursuant to O 18 r 19 of the Rules and/or the inherent jurisdiction of the court. An assistant registrar (‘the AR’) struck out the Application on the ground that it disclosed no reasonable cause of action, was frivolous or vexatious and/or was an abuse of the process of the court.

On appeal by Tan against the AR's decision, the High Court judge (‘the Judge’) held that Tan had locus standi, and that his claim was not certain to fail and in fact raised many novel constitutional issues that deserved more detailed treatment. However, the Judge concluded that there was no real controversy to be adjudicated as there was nothing at stake for Tan, given that he had already pleaded guilty to and been convicted of the s 294 (a)charge. The AR's striking-out order was therefore upheld. The present appeal is Tan's appeal against the Judge's decision.

Held, allowing the appeal:

(1) The...

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