Re: AGC seeks legal costs against resident in Hougang by-election case
by Kimberly Spykerman Updated 10:11 PM Oct 08, 2012
Having a constitutional case against SG govt (AGC) in court is like going to the casino, whomsoever has more $$$ to hire Senior/ Queens council (raise the stakes) will win the case, then bankrupt the opposition so that it would no longer exist. Happened before, still happens now.
Justice here it seems, sides with the wealthy in Singapore.
Going forward, I feel that the Judge would be wrong to proportion cost to the Plaintiff (Madam Vellama Marie Muthu) since she is entitled (as a citizen, more so one without any active MP representation) to apply to the courts to clarify points of the constitution, each pays his own cost (which would be 'free' if each represented him/herself (in house counsel))- this wasn't a case of suing for damages/$ but simply a clarification of citizenship rights based the spirit (wording) of the Singapore constitution.
If the learned Judge had thought that the problem could have more easily been solved by simple layman interpretation or even some form of mediation, he would have decided so back then- to schedule the case for further (public) hearing implies that the wordings of the constitution were adequately ambiguous and thus distressing for Madam Vellama Marie Muthu and perhaps Singaporeans at large.
Ostensibly, if the AGC's in house lawyers needed the crutch of a Senior council to fight their case, they should have asked the Finance Minster for funding, Madam Vellama Marie Muthu's lawyer is NOT a senior council anyhow- surely the in house lawyers in the AGC are competent practitioners in constitutional law- otherwise, the cost to hire a SC in this matter should have already been settled prior.
Perhaps the ambiguity of the Singapore Constitution reflects poorly on the Singapore parliament- as it has failed to indicate the spirit and intention of the law to such adequate extent that the average man may naturally appreciate and thus comply with- thus avoiding the lengthy process of high court adjudication as to what its intention and spirit truly is.
The failure of the Singapore Parliament to write clear and unambiguous laws cannot be substituted with the bankrupting of citizens seeking clarification of their right to parliamentary representation- least so on the very basic topic of constitutional law!
Lawyer M Ravi couldn't provide a suitable interpretation of the constitution to the satisfaction of his client Madam Vellama Marie Muthu's interpretation that the "Prime Minister does not have unfettered discretion in whether and when to call a by-election" and so necessarily assisted her in seeking the court's adjudication (opinion) regarding the matter.
In assisting the courts towards its decision, the AGC by its very act of retaining the expertise of Senior Counsel David Cheong (despite the ostensibly high legal fees that almost all SCs in Singapore charge); suggests that the issue in question was one beyond the competence of its own in house legal council to clarify before the judge (or maybe just using hammers to kill ants).
Madam Vellama Marie Muthu despite her meager education and humble occupation, is to me an outstanding Singaporean for her mature, brave and thus praiseworthy efforts at seeking clarification of the Singapore constitution where its ambiguity severely affected the well being of her and the rest of her constituency at a critical period where her constituency lacked parliamentary representation due to the premature departure of her incumbent MP and where provisions for replacement were to her, ambiguous and thus prone to abuse.
Without an elected MP representing her in Parliament from whom might provide clarification, and plagued by ambiguities in the interpretation of the constitution as to the timely replacement of her then defunct MP, Madam Vellama resolved her dilemma through the civilised and mature method of seeking legal council (rather than alleviating her own discomfort through other immature, racist or dysfunctional anti-social behaviours such as vandalism, nuisance or the causing of public disturbance).
It is the AGC's duty to strive to clarify ambiguities in the constitution efficiently whilst keeping its litigation costs low (as is the duty of every responsible member of the civil service).
The AGC cannot have its cake and eat it too, (perhaps the AGC does not deserve its bonus this year).
Madam Vellama Marie Muthu deserves both the sympathy and admiration of all Singaporeans. The conscience of Singapore should salute Madam Vellama Marie Muthu for her praise worthy public spirited efforts especially given her meagre means and humble background and taking ownership of her own legal costs..
The AGC's application to reclaims its legal costs pertaining to its hiring of Senior Counsel David Cheong and other legal costs incurred in this clarification seems a terrible disgrace (not to mention an admission of incompetence and shameless disregard for the constitution) because to me, the right to parliamentary representation through an elected representative (MP) is the right of every Singaporean, and where absent, the right to clarification or reassurance.
In seeking re-compensation for its own costs from Madam Vellama Marie Muthu, the AGC has betrayed the constitutional and legal rights of Madam Vellama Marie Muthu to democratic political representation; by contradicting itself as to the complexity of the issue at hand, the AGC has shown how incompetent it is at handling issues pertaining to the interpretation of the Singapore constitution. By seeking payment from a poor cleaner (Madam Vellama) for the legal cost of hiring Senior Counsel David Cheong in representing the AGC in the course of doing its usual work of clarifying constitutional ambiguities, the AGC is like a corrupt civil servant, seeking payment for an ordinarily free public service.
Madam Vellama Marie Muthu has endured enough misery and suffering already through length court proceedings and her own legal fees.
The Singapore Civil Service must learn to respect Singaporeans.
The Singapore Civil Service must learn to respect the Singapore constitution.
To award costs to the AGC in respect to its participation in this constitutional case is to set dangerous precedence in disassembling the state of democracy in Singapore.
Singapore has betrayed the rights of its poor citizens to democratic political representation.
Democracy is ailing in Singapore.
Or is democracy already dead in Singapore.
The author is not a practicing lawyer and this essay is presented only on the basis of personal legal interpretation and opinion.
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