My trial for contempt of court, part 2: first article, second sting

pic_201410_09The other part of the first article “377 wheels come off Supreme Court’s best-laid plans” that the AGC took exception to concerned my description of events leading to lawyer M Ravi (pictured at right) withdrawing his client’s application to intervene in the Kenneth and Gary appeal. I had written in the article that

M Ravi … in August 2013, acting for his client Tan Eng Hong, made an application to the High Court to be recognised as an interested party in the Court of Appeal hearing on the Kenneth and Gary case. The argument is that since the outcome of Kenneth and Gary’s appeal will affect Tan’s case (for which the High Court judgement was still pending at the time) Tan should be permitted to intervene.

This move must have upset the best-laid of plans. From a legal point of view, it would be very difficult to deny such an application. The fact of the matter is that the two cases are very similar. Whatever ruling comes out of the Court of Appeal in Gary and Kenneth’s case, it would clearly impact Tan Eng Hong’s case.

I have been given to understand that phone calls were exchanged between the High Court and M Ravi’s office in which the lawyer was persuaded to withdraw his application on the understanding that the judgement for Tan Eng Hong would be released shortly. And that’s why the judgement was released on 2 October, when few others were expecting it.

The AGC said these words alleged impropriety on the part of the courts and that I had “not provided any cogent evidence to show that he [meaning me] had rational basis to state in the first article that there were ‘phone exchanges’ between the High Court and M Ravi’s office, or that M Ravi was persuaded to withdraw his application to intervene in Lim Meng Suang’s appeal.”

(The question of the degree of cogency would later be addressed by my lawyers; we’ll leave it for now.)

Tai Wei Shyong, appearing for the Attorney-General, pointed out that from a document in the Tan Eng Hong case (Tan Eng Hong’s application for consolidation, Summons 5288/2013) the news about the Tan Eng Hong judgement being imminent came not from Quentin Loh’s office but from the Registrar.

The Applicant [Tan Eng Hong] faced the difficulty that he was seeking to intervene in an appeal which raised a common issue facing his client, although he had not yet received a judgment on his own application. When the Applicant received an indication from the Registrar that Judgment on his application was imminent he withdrew his application to intervene.

It should be noted however that I didn’t say  in my article that Ravi received the news from Quentin Loh’s secretary. I said the communication was between his office and the High Court, and whether it was Quentin Loh’s office or the Registrar, both were part of the High Court.

In any case, my lawyers Peter Low and Choo Zheng Xi argued that any claim by the AGC that the statements in my article were totally baseless is clearly contradicted by evidence. There was plenty to demonstrate that I had rational basis for my statements.

Firstly, a Straits Times article (archived now in AsiaOne) had reported:

Lawyer M Ravi, who is acting for Mr Tan, gave two reasons for the withdrawal [of the application to intervene].

First he had been assured by High Court Justice Quentin Loh’s secretary that the delivery of judgement in Mr Tan’s case is being expedited…

— Straits Times/AsiaOne, 8 September 2013, Gay-sex law case: Man drops bid to intervene

Secondly, I had also said in my affidavit that I received corroborating news from someone who was present at the hearing that M Ravi said those words (or something very similar in effect) in open court. More importantly, the AGC had way back in December 2013 also corroborated the same as can be seen in a 12 Nov 2013 affidavit wherein Teo Siqi, a State Counsel in the Criminal Justice Division of the AGC, swore that

… I was present at the hearing of SUM 4252/2013 on 5 September 2013. At the hearing before the Court of Appeal, Mr Ravi, appearing for the plaintiff in Tan Eng Hong, informed the Court of Appeal that his client was withdrawing the application to intervene in CA 54/2013. Mr Ravi indicated that it was a difficult decision to make and gave the following reasons for the withdrawal:

(a) Mr Ravi asserted that he found out from Loh J’s secretary that the judgement for Tan Eng Hong would be released soon

(underscoring inserted by me)

While I wouldn’t have known at the time of writing my article that Teo Siqi heard what she heard in the September hearing, nonetheless her affidavit lends weight to my own affidavit where I said that a friend of mine in court on that day heard exactly the same thing.

Thirdly, the AGC themselves had tendered an affidavit affirmed by Arneda Jasman, private secretary to Justice Quentin Loh in which Arneda said:

During the period between July 2013 and the beginning of August 2013, Mr Ravi called me a few times to enquire (a) whether the grounds for decision for Tan Eng Hong (“GD”)  was ready for collection, and/or when the GD would be ready for collection.

(underscoring inserted by me)

I hope my lawyers have successfully demonstrated that I had sufficient basis to make the statements that I did — that “phone calls were exchanged between the High Court and M Ravi’s office in which the lawyer was persuaded to withdraw his application on the understanding that the judgement for Tan Eng Hong would be released shortly” — and therefore that my statements were fair comment. Should Justice Belinda Ang agree with this assessment, then these statements cannot constitute contempt of court.

Continued in Part 3

Links to

Part 1: First article, first sting
Part 3: The second article
Part 4: Legal burden and Shadrake precedents
Part 5: Mens rea, tone and tenor

(Since judgement has been reserved and the case is not totally over, please understand I will not publish readers’ comments.)

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