Business Times – 03 Jun 2008
SDP DAMAGES HEARING
By MICHELLE QUAH
(SINGAPORE) The High Court has sentenced Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan to 12 days’ jail, and his sister Chee Siok Chin to 10 days, for contempt of court.
The Chees have until Wednesday evening to file a notice of appeal, failing which they will have to turn themselves in on Thursday morning.
The sentence, handed down by Justice Belinda Ang yesterday, is the harshest reported in Singapore for such an offence.
The Chees were judged to be in contempt for their ‘scandalising and insulting behaviour directed at the court, and in particular, attacks on the court’s impartiality’, during a hearing last week to determine damages they should pay for defaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in 2006.
In mitigation, lawyer M Ravi said yesterday his client Ms Chee had no desire to scandalise the court.
‘(My client), in the face of a series of defeats, became almost paranoid in believing that the system was against her,’ he said. ‘And in the heat of the judicial proceedings … any verbal utterances would inevitably reflect the deep-seated fear and anxiety. The real cause (of her outbursts was) fear borne of successive defeats.’
Ms Chee represented herself at the damages hearing. And Mr Ravi said that lacking the proper training, she could not be expected to ‘understand the legal parameters of relevance’.
He said she was understandably anxious cross-examining ‘the Prime Minister of the country and his father, who happens to be at the helm of the core of political power of one’s nation’.
He also pointed out that Ms Chee was in physical pain during the proceedings, as she has a tooth infection.
Justice Ang noted Mr Ravi’s submissions but said: ‘Misbehaviour in court, if unpunished, will very much diminish the dignity and authority of the court, and that would not be in the public interest.’
She sentenced Ms Chee to 10 days’ jail but agreed to suspend the sentence on condition Ms Chee files an appeal by Wednesday evening.
Dr Chee was represented by veteran politician JB Jeyaretnam, who began by saying the court would recognise that he ‘does not have to agree with whatever has been done by the client’ but that he nevertheless has a duty.
Mr Jeyaretnam then asked if Justice Ang should be hearing the case, ‘seeing that the contempt of court charges, the allegations, proceeded in (your) court and arose out of exchanges between the court and the defendant’.
‘I am not alleging in the slightest way any bias on you. All I’m asking you to consider is the public perception,’ he said.
Justice Ang disallowed the application, saying: ‘What was observed and heard by me could not be fully appreciated from a mere reading of the transcripts or from listening to the recordings.’
Mr Jeyaretnam then asked for two more weeks to prepare his case – which Justice Ang denied.
When Mr Jeyaretnam returned after a short break, he informed the court that Dr Chee had discharged him ‘because he (Dr Chee) concedes that I have had no time to prepare the case … and so he wants to spare me the embarrassment’.
Dr Chee then addressed the court briefly, saying he never intended to be in contempt of court or to scandalise the court. ‘Very many political arguments were made. And in the heat of the battle, (MM) Lee had said a few things. I had countered him,’ Dr Chee said.
Justice Ang said his behaviour during the hearing ‘amounted to acts which scandalised the court and adversely affected the administration of justice and impugned the dignity and the authority of the court’.
She found him in contempt of court and sentenced him to 12 days’ jail – pending an appeal by Wednesday evening.