(Or “Were lawyers in the past so dumb and cowardly?”
The court case on whether the PM has unfettered discretion to call a by-election will soon be heard. Despite it being overtaken by events, the petitioner, Mdm Vellama, is continuing her suit after the AG refused her request for the AG not to ask for costs if she withdrew her petition.
She has juz doubled yet again. She will give up her court case if PM makes declaration on by-elections in Parliament . The AG has told her to bugger off (of course politely). She had juz raised the stakes, wanting PM to testify.
Waz her game? Is she a principled, brave citizen? A publicity hound? Qui lan lady? Clueless? Or juz badly advised?A worrying tot is that her love of doubling her legal “bets” could mean that she is a compulsive gambler by nature.
To recap, she had asked the court whether the PM has unfettered discretion to call a by-election in Hougang. She was afraid that she might not have an MP to seek help from.
Her lawyer helpfully pointed out that thrice, no by-elections were called:
– In 1983, when the Havelock seat became vacant, then PM Lee Kuan Yew said: “There is no reason why the people of Havelock should have a by-election.”
– In November 1986, the JBJ was disqualified from holding the Anson seat. In his answer to opposition member Chiam See Tong’s query in Parliament, Minister S Dhanabalan said : “He has been convicted of a criminal offence and fined and sent to jail. They [Anson constituents] have to learn to live with the consequences of their choice.”
– In December 1986, the Geylang West seat became vacant after its MP, Teh Cheang Wan, committed suicide. Then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong explained that there would be no by-election in the ward because the government was “contemplating introducing a Bill to form Town Councils.”
I wonder why no-one had petitioned the court to get the government to call a by-election until this year? Surely there were lawyers* at that time who are as smart and brave as Ravi** ? As Chiam was an MP on two of the above instances, perhaps someone should ask him why he never bothered to bring a case? Does he agree that the PM has an unfettered discretion on whether to call a by-election or not to fill a vacancy?
Whatever it is, the lady is likeky to end up with a huge bill to pay: AG’s costs.
As AG has rightly pointed out, a by-election has been called and held, so there no need for judge to decide anything. The petitioner is wasting court’s time and should be “punished” (my word, not AG’s) by having costs awarded against her. Technically, AG is right.
As a trained lawyer who did some court work as a very junior lawyer, I think the original petition was brought too early. The petition should have been brought on 16th May, three months*** and a day after the was seat vacated, the day incidentally that PM announced the date of the by-election.
But the lady was too impatient it seems to have an MP to look after her needs. Or was she badly advised? Her lawyer was the same guy who advised TRE to fight a request from LKY’s younger son to remove some defamatory material. He wanted to go to court and argue that the request was unconstitutional. TRE settled instead without paying anything, and on fair terms. If it had gone to court, the legal bills would have huge, win, lose or draw.
Let’s hope that when costs are awarded against her, the people who promised to fund the petitioner’s costs will folk out the money. Otherwise the lady petitioner may have to clean the AG’s offices for free for the rest of her life to avoid being made a bankrupt. Her day job is a cleaner, remember.
Doubtless she will be thanking Ravi the lawyer while she cleans and sweeps the Chambers. And doubtless, the other Ravi, P the social worker, will be trying to help her.
*There was JBJ who although, not very smart, was brave. And there was Francis Seow, a former Solictor-General, a good litigator with the brain of an intellectual, and the heart of a lion. He is still alive though not in practice. He is a Harvard Fellow, wanted by the S’pore government on some tax charge. He was detained under the ISA for a short while in the late 1980s.
**The lawyer who argued that a drug mule who refused to testify against an alleged drug lord should have his conviction set aside because the state should have compelled said drug mule to testify against said drug lord: fortunately the judges saw thru the Alice-in-Wonderland logic of lawyer Ravi, even if he and other “Free the mule” groupies didn’t.
***Three months is some kind of marker among activists because of a previous constitutional provision that a by-election had to be held three months after the seat was cacated. This requirement was later removed. I’m simplifying the issue.