The Pincer Movement on Chee Siok Chin

September 10, 2008

By Chia Ti Lik



A write up on the events relating to the Originating Summons (“OS”) for review of the Official Assignee’s decision to disallow Ms Chee Siok Chin (“CSC”) from leaving Singapore for Stanford University.

The application was filed by CSC in person on 4th August 2008. She had requested for and obtained an urgent hearing date on 11th August 2008 for her.

I was instructed argue on her behalf on an urgent basis and I appeared before the Honourable Justice Tan Lee Meng on a short notice on 11th August 2008. At that hearing, the AG-C alleged that there had been improper service of the documents on their office and they registered objection to the lack of clarity of CSC’s OS.

Notwithstanding the alleged improper service, the AG-C came ready with a submission, and 4 affidavits to address the position taken by the Applicant.

In the affidavits, the Attorney-General’s officers claimed as follows, namely that:-

a.                   they were improperly served. AG-C received only the 1st page of CSC’s  affidavit without any cover letter; and

b.                  The AG-C encountered difficulty of serving the said affidavits on CSC.

In the affidavits, the Official Assignee’s officers claimed as follows, namely that:-

a.                   CSC had been uncooperative towards their office in the management of her financial affairs; and

b.                  The Official Assignee’s office email delivery system had prevented them from receiving the emails.

Faced with the objections and having had sight of the 4 affidavits for the first time only at the hearing, I asked for time to rectify the OS as well as to respond to the affidavits filed by the AG-C.

The Honourable Justice Tan Lee Meng made the following directions:-

a.                   1 week to CSC to make amendments and file all necessary further documents;

b.                  1 further week for AG-C to respond; and

c.                   the hearing to take place on week thereafter on 1st September 2008.

The hearing on 11th August 2008, even if heard and ruled in favour of CSC was already impossible for CSC to make it meaningfully to the fellowship of democrats at Stanford University which would have ended on 16th August 2008. CSC was supposed to have been at the fellowship on 29th July 2008 till 16th August 2008.

The adjournment, however, was not the cause of a delayed review application because CSC had requested the Official Assignee for permission from to travel from as early as 28th April 2008. In addition to that, she had sent reminders sent to the Official Assignee on 3 occasions: 2nd May 2008, 8th May 2008 and 13th May 2008.

To these email communications, the Official Assignee’s office claimed on affidavit that the government internet filter prevented them from receiving the emails from CSC because of the attachments she annexed to the email.

Subsequent to the adjournment, I got down working with CSC on her Reply Affidavit as well as the amendments to the OS and other documents.

An unsuccessful attempt was made to file the Amended OS on 18th August but the Electronic Filing system refused to accept the documents.

When CSC affirmed her reply affidavit on Thursday 21st August 2008, a 2nd attempt was made to file the Amended OS and the Reply affidavit.

I attempted to inform the AG-C on 21st August 2008 of the delay. The facsimile failed to transmit and was re-faxed in the morning of 22nd August 2008.

On 22nd August 2008 the AG-C wrote complaining of:-

Not having any specified the problems we encountered;

Not having been served the amended OS and reply affidavit;

Objecting to any adjournment; and

Objecting to any late filing of CSC’s papers.

I replied on 22nd August 2008 clarifying a number of points, namely that:-

The adjournment granted on 11th August 2008 was inconsequential given the delay given by the Official Assignee’s office in replying in the first place;

The problem encountered in filing the amended OS;

The suggestion of adjournment was offered to avoid prejudicing any party;

The late filing would never in any circumstance be allowed to prejudice the AG-C;

And I effected service of the documents on the AG-C via fax without the confirmation that Supreme Court Registry has accepted the same; and

Informing that by 25th August 2008 we would seek to refix the other matters in the subordinate Courts should AG-C still object to the said suggested adjournment.

On 25th August 2008, the AG-C replied:-

Taking issue with the fact that CSC’s reply affidavit was sworn on 21st August as opposed to be filed on 18th August 2008;

Taking issue that the documents do not seem to have been accepted by the court for filing in EFS as at 1045hrs 25th August 2008;

Reserving the right to make a proper response only if the documents are properly filed and served; and

Objecting to any adjournment of the hearing on 1st September 2008.

On 1122hrs Monday 25th August 2008, the Supreme Court Registry rejected the Amended OS and CSC’s reply affidavit for Electronic filing. The rejection was received on 1205hrs on Monday 25th August 2008. The reason for rejection given – late filing.

On 28th August 2008, there as a further letter from AG-C:

Reiterating previous points;

Citing that as at 10am 28th August 2008, I had still not re-filed and re-served the documents nor written to explain the same; and

Insisting that the only documents which CSC will rely on would only be the documents filed previously.

I responded to AG-C via a letter dated 28th august 2008

Informing (incorrectly) that the documents were rejected on Friday 22nd August 2008 (when it was actually Monday 25th August 2008);

Explaining no separate formal application for leave for reasons of costs and feasibility;

Given the reason of rejection furnished by the Registry in the circumstances, no further attempt at filing was made; and

There is no reason for AG-C to deny the Applicant any adjournment or leave to re-file and insist on CSC relying only on those documents filed previously.

The AG-C’s letter dated 28th August 2008 (received on 29th August 2008):-

Asserting that it was by our course of conduct that the court does not have CSC’s further documents;

Reiterating that the hearing on 1st September would proceed on the basis of the documents filed in court; and

Copying our letter and the current letter to the Registrar Supreme Court.

I replied to the AG-C on 29th August 2008:-

Objecting to the persistent assertions that it was our conduct that led to the Court not having CSC’s proposed documents to justify a stand denying her the right to place her further documents before Justice Tan Lee Meng;

Citing their right to a rejoinder response in any event;

The greater importance is for the issue of the actions of the Official Assignee’s office to be reviewed by the Court;

AG-C has to act impartially when exercising a public function; and

Requesting AG-C to place all correspondences before Registrar Supreme Court and Justice Tan.

The response from AG-C via letter dated 29th August 2008:-

Reiterates previous points;

Explaining why chambers make no proper response as the documents have not been properly filed;

Stubbornly insists on proceeding with application on 1st September 2008 on the basis of documents filed and accepted by the Court Registry; and

Refusing to copy complete correspondence to the Attorney General’s office.

CSC is a bankrupt and given the difficulties encountered to file the relevant papers, there was a limit to what she or her counsel could do.

The rejection by the Supreme Court Registry of the documents for Electronic Filing was received only in the afternoon of 25th August 2008.

By that time, it would have been too late for CSC to prepare and file a separate application for leave of court for an extension of time to file the same as such an application would in all probability yielded a hearing date before after 1st September 2008. Furthermore, there were cost considerations in terms of additional disbursements when the Applicant is clearly a bankrupt.

CSC was ready and willing to proceed with the application for review but the crux of her case and the proper process requires her papers to be filed to be accepted by the Supreme Court Registry and in the circumstances, leave of the Court was required.

The AG-C was aware of the difficulties encountered by CSC but was intent on keeping her at a disadvantage even though as at 22nd August 2008, the AG-C had been served with a copy each of the papers.

CSC’s position is therefore known to the AG-C since that date but those positions are not open to CSC for her to canvass the same in Honourable Court so long as her affidavits was not accepted by the Supreme Court Registry.

It must be noted that in any event, the Honourable Court had given AG-C leave to file and serve their rejoinder response which will allow the AG-C to have the last word on this application. The AG-C would have been in no way prejudiced by any adjournment.

Notwithstanding the above, AG-C successfully objected to the CSC being given leave to file her papers and CSC had to proceed with the hearing based on what she had successfully filed in Court when what CSC had on court record was insufficient to address allegations made by the Official Assignee’s Office in their affidavits.

The Court dismissed the application on the ground that there was no reason for the court to rule on a matter which has already passed in that it was no longer meaningful for the review to be made as the period of travel was over and that such a review over matters of discretion decided by the OA would not give rise to a precedent for future actions.

In this process, I learnt of the whimsicality of the Official Assignee.

I learnt of the tenacity of the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

I experienced the illogicality of the actions of the Supreme Court Registry.

I witness the opportunistic nature of government-controlled media.

And I understood the effectiveness of the pincer movement executed on Chee Siok Chin.

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