The former tenured law professor of the National University of Singapore, Tey Tsun Hang, who was summarily dismissed by the university on 28 May 2013 – the same day he was initially convicted of corruption – filed a court document on 3 June 2014 to seek reinstatement of his tenured academic position.
Tey, whose conviction was subsequently overturned at the High Court, has asked to quash what he calls the ‘wrong and wrongful’ summary dismissal by the university. He claims that the university carried out the summary dismissal, without regard to due process and without giving him an opportunity to be heard.
Tey seeks judicial remedies on the ground that the summary dismissal against him was a breach of natural justice, infringing his fundamental right to a fair hearing and of the presumption of innocence, and is illegal, irrational and procedurally improper.
Professor Tey was a tenured law professor at the National University of Singapore. He has written critically on the Singapore judiciary and the legal system, as well as how Singapore government had charged its opposition leaders and activists under various laws and how government leaders had used defamation proceedings to sue and cripple their opponents. Just before he was interrogated by Singapore’s Corruption Investigation Bureau in April 2012, his book, ‘Supreme Executive, Supine Jurisprudence and Supplication Profession’ was published by Hong Kong University in late 2011, and his writing was criticised by the then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong in February 2012.
In April 2012, he was interrogated by Singapore’s CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau). After 12 hours of interrogation, he was rushed by an ambulance to a government hospital for emergency medical treatment.
He was prosecuted and charged for corruption on 27 July 2012. The NUS suspended him from duty on the same date, on the basis of the criminal charges. When he was convicted on 28 May 2013, he was served with a summary dismissal letter by the university.
The conviction was eventually declared wrong and wrongful by the Singapore Supreme Court on 28 February 2014.
In this court action, Tey is seeking due process and fair hearing, and says that “the NUS cannot dismiss a tenured law professor based on a conviction declared by the High Court to be misconceived and mistaken, a conviction based on evidence misconstrued and its significance misunderstood.”
Tey was not called up by the NUS for investigations, prior to the summary dismissal.
In response to Tey’s position, NUS has replied Channel News Asia that under the terms and conditions of Tey’s appointment, termination may be effected without prior notice should he be convicted of any crime that is likely to bring the university into disrepute.
Judicial consistency and judicial fairness
The invocation of criminal presumption of guilt, which applies to an employee of a public body, during the trial against Tey resurfaces as an issue in this round of court action.
Previously, the Singapore Attorney-General and two Supreme Court judges – the trial judge who convicted him during trial, and the appellate judge who acquitted him on appeal – declared NUS to be a public body, despite arguments by the NUS that it was ‘autonomous’. On that basis, the more onerous criminal presumption of guilt was automatically invoked against Tey during the criminal trial.
In the court document, Tey says that he expects “judicial consistency – and thus judicial fairness – in the Singapore Supreme Court’s approach to and treatment of the status of the NUS as a public body”.
Two Singapore Supreme Court judges, in agreeing with the Attorney-General’s Chambers which drafted the NUS statute, had declared the NUS a public body and invoked the onerous criminal presumption of guilt against Tey. Tey is now asking the same Supreme Court to similarly treat the NUS as a public body in according him the public law rights that he is entitled to.
Tey requests that his former university “to do what is right, and live up to the international reputation it aspires to” – carry out proper investigations and hold a fair hearing at the very least, and not dismiss him without regard to due process.
Local human rights lawyer, M Ravi will be acting as Tey’s counsel.