Senior Counsel Davinder Singh (Singh) is a familiar name among legal circles. He has acted for an expansive list of members of the government and it is reasonable to assume that his services do not come cheap. Looking at what has been charged in the recent court case between Fragrance Hotel chain founder James Koh Wee Meng (Koh) and Rolls-Royce agent Trans Eurokars - Singh's fees for representing Koh in this lawsuit were estimated to be north of $1.2 million.
Now that Singh is acting for Pasir Ris Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) against certain members of the Workers' Party (WP) in the now infamous town council case, it is perhaps reasonable to imagine that Singh's fees would also be much more than that figure, given the complicity and length of this trial. (Note that Singh did most if not all of the cross-examination of the defendants even though AHTC was claiming a far higher amount.)
Presumably, this fee would be footed by PRPTC given that the lawsuit is ostensibly taken on its behalf. This begs the question, were the constituents consulted before such a huge amount is potentially incurred? Given that PRPTC is run on public funds, is it fair for this decision to be made without expressly getting their consent?
In civil cases such as these, it is common for the court to order that the losing party pay the legal costs incurred by the winning party's lawyers. This would mean that if the WP loses the case, it would likely have to foot not just its own legal fees but also that incurred by PRPTC and Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC). In other words, the legal fees of AHTC and PRPTC would not come out of town council funds if they win the case.
However, in any court case, there is always a chance that either party could lose. Are the respective councils therefore arguably gambling with public money by taking such chances?
And even if WP loses the case, the legal fees claimed by PRPTC will be subjected to taxation. The Supreme Court states that it "shall allow a reasonable amount for all costs reasonably incurred, and any doubts as to whether costs were reasonably incurred or reasonable in quantum shall be resolved in favour of the paying party". As with the Koh vs Trans Eurokars, the judge slashed the latter's claim for $608,807 of legal fees, before GST, in legal costs to $320,000 as it was "disproportionate to the case and also excessive" when assessed against costs in other cases. So PRPTC might not even recover the sum in full from the defendants.
I am certainly not alone in asking these questions. Someone had apparently written into her town council, PRPTC to inquire as to how an expensive lawyer such as Singh has been funded. Her emails were allegedly unanswered and after repeated phone calls made on her part, she was informed that the town council was unable to respond to such a query when the court case was still on going.
1) Can the town council (TC) choose to spend big amounts on whatever non estate dispenses depending on their own wishes without informing or consulting the residents?
2) Can the TC withhold information on big expenses from their residents?
3) Did the TC organise a tender process before deciding which lawyer to use?
4) Did the TC breach any TC rules and regulations? These are all very valid questions.
Will these be answered and if not, should we not press for accountability?
Looking at the claims PRPTC and AHTC have collectively made against the WP, there is a chance that the damages awarded could end up being lower than Singh's legal fees.
In a scenario like this, who would foot the excess legal fees? Would Singh reduce his fees? If he does, will it look potentially like a politically motivated court case? If Singh does not reduce his fees and the town council ends up having to fork out the fees, how can this court case be deemed in any way shape or form as beneficial to its residents?
Wouldn't the residents be stuck in a position of having to pay more than the damages received making the entire lawsuit a waste of resources with no benefit apart from conveniently taking down three key opposition politicians?