Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Singapore. Why the Singapore judge was right on the Hougang case.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s state controlled newspapers carry headlines on the case of the Hougang woman suing the Government of Singapore for their delay in not holding by elections soon after that parliamentary seat because vacant when the incumbent was fired for extra marital affairs.

The case is well known and I need not go into the details.

The woman is represented by lawyer M Ravi.

The woman, as I understand it was in her law suit principally requesting that the court make a ruling that the Prime Minister "does not have unfettered discretion" on deciding when or if ever to call a by election in Hougang.

From the start the woman had no leg to stand on. It was a lost cause to begin with.

Firstly neither the Constitution nor the Parliamentary Elections Act makes any reference as to when a by election should be held. Since the law of Singapore, at least in theory (we know in practice Lee Ruling Family do whatever they want), is based on statute and furthermore, as there are no precedent case law on the issue under Singapore  law, no such requirement on the Prime Minister exists.

Second, even if the court relies on English law, since under the Civil Law Act of Singapore, the applicable law when in doubt is the law of England; no such requirement exists even in England. Although under customary law and tradition there, the House of Commons would normally hold by elections within 3 months, nowhere does it state even in England that the Prime Minister should hold elections.

Of course England being a multi party democracy, the English people would have been up in arms if no elections were held there, but going principally on the law, the Hougang woman has simply no case because even English law gives her no help.

And lastly, courts are required only to try triable issues, and not make policy or laws. Here as far as the grievance of the Hougang woman is concerned, on the facts, she has no case since there is no law or statute that supports her. As to her demand that the court make such a finding, about the “unfettered discretion” this is not the duty of any court, not even in Singapore or anywhere in the world.

Her only recourse in ensuring that the Singapore Prime Minister is required to hold elections within 3 months by law is to pressure Singapore Parliament and her politicians to change the law of the land to state this.

But she cannot go to court and compel a judge to declare that the Prime Minister is required to hold elections in vacant wards since Singapore law does not require this; and the judge is not a politician to make such a law.

This is one case which should never have been brought to court. I am sure the poor citizen of Hougang in whose name the action is brought hasn't the faintest clue about any of this. The responsible party in this case is her lawyer M Ravi. If he failed to inform his client that there is no merit whatsoever in this case, then he has failed in his duty. And he has also failed in his duty if he did not make the necessary basic research, which had he done so, he would have discovered to have no merit at all. And lastly if he knew that the case had no merit and went ahead nevertheless, he has once again failed.  

Under Singapore laws the costs are awarded to the successful party. In this case the costs should be ordered payable by her lawyer M Ravi and not by the litigant. The fault in commencing this action is totally that of the lawyer, who is expected to know better, which he would have, had he done basic research.

All this is stated very clearly in Erskine May, the established authority on English Parliamentary practice.

Goopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
Fremont, CA, USA
Tel 510 657 6107 or 510 491 4375

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