Former National University of Singapore (NUS) student Jeanne-Marie Ten Leu Jiun, who has been embroiled in a legal tussle with her former alma mater, is on the last leg of her fundraising bid to pay for the security for costs amounting to S$20,000 as mandated by the High Court.
She has decided to bring her appeal against the High Court’s decision on costs as well as the High Court’s substantive judgment to the Court of Appeal (SCGA).
However, should Ms Ten be unable to pay the security for costs, the Court will not allow her to bring her appeal to the SGCA.
“As far as I know, the Malaysian Court and the British Courts do not require (or require only minimal amounts for) this sort of security deposit. However, this is, sadly, the current position in Singapore,” she said, in explaining why she started the crowdfunding initiative.
“I believe I have an arguable case, in fact a strong case, but I don’t have the sum of $20,000. I need to reach the target sum by 22 August 2019 (and file the Notice of Appeal latest by 26 August 2019).
Ms Ten highlighted that the “security for costs” must be paid to the opposing party, which means that the sum will be for the benefit of NUS in the present case.
“Appealing to the Court of Appeal is probably the only way that I can avoid bankruptcy – or, at the very least, it is certainly the only way that I can possibly avoid a crushing financial burden in the form of the unfair costs order,” she lamented.
In a blog post earlier this month on 8 Aug, Ms Ten wrote that she finds it “ironic that while even murderers and rapists are allowed to appeal their convictions”, she is hindered from exercising her legal right to appeal “despite the fact that this right of appeal supposedly belongs to every Singaporean”.
“I am the victim of abuse of power and retaliation by NUS; I am a law-abiding citizen whose only “crime” was that I stood up to injustice and I refused to drop my complaints about misconduct and cover-up, even after NUS officers had threatened me in writing,” she said, particularly in reference to then-NUS Vice-Provost Lily Kong’s allegedly threatening letter, as seen below.
“What is the point of a legal right of appeal that is supposedly guaranteed to every Singaporean by law, when there is in practice an upfront premium tied to this legal right?”
“This is especially appalling since my case is a matter of public interest, involving institutional wrongdoing by a public body, including dishonesty, abuse of power, cover-up, and retaliation against a whistle-blower,” argued Ms Ten.
She questioned: “The Court of Appeal frequently reverses the decisions of lower courts, so wouldn’t handing the power to determine whether an appellant can appeal a legal case to the respondent potentially lead to a miscarriage of justice?”
Explaining why she believes she has a strong case to be brought to the SGCA, Ms Ten wrote: “In the July 2018 written judgment, the High Court actually found NUS to be guilty of wrongdoing in the main facts of my case.”
“But the High Court did not find NUS to be guilty of “malice” or “deliberate” acts and, hence, the High Court did not hold NUS liable to me for expelling me from the university and destroying my career, despite the overwhelming documentary evidence that proves that the wrongful actions that NUS took against me were intentional, deliberate, premediated and carefully planned and executed by numerous high-ranking NUS officers,” she stressed.
Meanwhile, she said, NUS has “consistently taken the legal position” that she “did not complete the requirements that were necessary for NUS to award her a Master’s degree”.
“This is a lame excuse and a red herring … The fact is that I had successfully completed all of the requirements for my graduation and for the award of my Master’s Degree, including researching and writing a book-length Master’s thesis, and I had submitted the final version of my thesis to NUS on the deadline stipulated by NUS.
“The documentary evidence of letters and internal emails written by NUS officers, clearly prove that the real reason why NUS expelled me and denied me the award of my Master’s degree, was that I refused to comply with demands that I drop my complaints about a professor’s misconduct (my thesis Supervisor), even after NUS sent me a letter that threatened me with expulsion if I refused to comply with the improper demands,” said Ms Ten.
In the High Court ruling in July last year, Justice Woo Bih Li, in delivering his judgement, reasoned that the claims made by Ms Ten on the tort of misfeasance in public office and bad faith by the university failed, based on the available facts.
It was stated by Ms Ten that Dr Wong Yunn Chii, Associate Professor of the Department of Architecture and Ms Ten’s sole supervisor at that time, had “obtained a grant of S$80,200 for a project to create a digital visualisation of Commercial Square which is today known as Raffles Place (“the Visualisation Project”).
Justice Woo remarked: “For example, in an email from him [Dr Wong] to her [Ms Ten] dated 5 August 2004, he said, “Your work will be an important basis for the digital visualisation work – it is the content.”
In February 2005, Ms Ten alleged, in an email to Vice-Provost of Education at NUS, Prof Lily Kong, that Dr Wong had “evaded her question as to how he was going to acknowledge her thesis in the project”.
He responded instead that he “had the right to use the primary sources from her work in the project because such sources did not belong to her”, according to court documents.
Her candidature was eventually ended by the University in September 2006.
Consequently, Ms Ten filed a civil lawsuit against NUS in 2012 on the grounds of breach of contract, the tort of misfeasance in public office, the tort of intimidation, and the tort of negligence.
Through the hearing of the lawsuit, it was discovered that Prof Kong choose not to provide information to Ms Ten as she felt that the student was rude and difficult while at the same time, provided all information to Dr Wong, including all the findings of the COI. The findings while clearing Dr Wong’s name of plagiarism, acknowledged Dr Wong’s lacking in supervision towards Ms Ten.
Despite having the details of the COI withheld from Ms Ten, Dr Kong ordered Ms Ten to accept the COI findings as an additional requirement to graduate. As Ms Ten felt there is no transparency in the process, she declined to issue a statement to acknowledge the findings which then led to her non-graduation.
In a blog post dated 18 Jul 2017, Ms Ten explained her reasons for initiating legal action against NUS:
This lawsuit is not just about the negligence of Dr Wong as a supervisor or his professional enrichment through the use of my thesis. Most importantly, it is about the wrongful termination of my MA candidature by NUS. The termination of my candidature has affected my life. NUS failed to observe due process in investigating my complaint against Dr Wong, and penalised me for my refusal to accept the NUS’ dubious investigation.
A public body like NUS is financially strong to drag this out in court. The longer it drags, the more painful and difficult it is for an individual like me to seek justice. This lawsuit is also about representing the voice of those who cannot afford to access equal legal resources.
NUS managed to withhold crucial information about facts related to my lawsuit until as late as July 2015, when it eventually disclosed information that would adversely affect its case. To date, I have hundreds of thousands of legal fees to pay and I have already spent more than S$100,000 in fees.
Not only has NUS tried to strike out my case a number of times, NUS had also tried to make me a bankrupt by issuing me a “statutory demand” under The Bankruptcy Act (dated 3 May 2016) to pay the cost orders in the interim applications that I had lost to NUS.
Ms Ten said that “elites” such as Lily Kong “who are given power and authority to exercise public functions must be held accountable when they abuse their power”.
“They must not be allowed to get away scot-free, with zero accountability and total impunity, as if they are “above the law.” If the Court of Appeal reverses the High Court’s decision and if the Court of Appeal decides that NUS is legally liable for its wrongful actions, then there will be public pressure to hold the wrongdoers accountable for their wrongful actions.
“The wrongful public officers must indemnify NUS the legal fees which NUS are paying to its lawyers to protect the wrongful conduct of the NUS officers, especially since the High Court has already confirmed wrongdoing by Lily Kong,” she maintained.
NUS tried to “amicably” resolve issue with Ms Ten, but offers were rejected: NUS
Responding to queries from The Independent SG, NUS said on Mon (19 Aug) that the University has previously “sought to resolve the matter amicably with Ms Ten, including to facilitate the conferment of the degree on Ms Ten”.
“In addition to making an offer through the MOE in 2011, NUS also made offers to Ms Ten in 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, Ms Ten did not accept any of NUS’ offers. Ms Ten also never responded to NUS’ proposal to mediate her lawsuit in 2014,” NUS claimed.
NUS also said that Ms Ten “has not filed an appeal against NUS and the deadline for filing an appeal has passed”.
The University added that it has “consistently denied any wrongdoing on its part, and had no option but to defend itself against Ms Ten’s claims”.
“NUS was also compelled to defend itself in the various applications and appeals that Ms Ten filed in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. As a result, the hearing of Ms Ten’s lawsuit was delayed until 2017.
“The trial took place in an open court during which Ms Ten and the NUS officers involved provided oral testimony and were cross-examined by lawyers of both parties. The High Court had dismissed Ms Ten’s claims against NUS,” the NUS statement read.
Ms Ten has exhausted all her life savings of over S$100,000 fighting a legal battle that has ruined her life for over a decade.
Those wishing to contribute to Ms Ten’s fundraising initiative may do so here before midnight tomorrow (22 Aug).