According to reports, the defamation trial between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and veteran blogger Leong Sze Hian has been postponed due to illness on the part of Lee’s lead counsel, Davinder Singh. The trial was originally scheduled for early July.
The defamation suit concerns an article shared by Leong on his personal Facebook (FB) Timeline titled “Breaking News: Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB’s Key Investigation Target – Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements with Hsien Loong In Exchange For Money Laundering”. Leong had neither written the article or commented on it.
Given that this whole saga begun in November 2018, it seems that this postponement could lead to the matter being dragged out into 2021.
A separate trial in relation to the high profile Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) case involving Sylvia Lim, Pritam Singh and Low Thia Khiang of the Workers’ Party (which was originally scheduled for 19 June) has also apparently been vacated.
For those who may have forgotten (given that this has gone on for such a long time), the trio have been accused by AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) of making over S$33 million in “improper” payments between 2011 and 2015 to FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), owned by “conflicted” parties How Weng Fan and her late husband Danny Loh.
While no reasons were given for moving the date of this hearing, it is likely that Singh’s illness had led to the trial being vacated. Singh is counsel for PRPTC. This would mean that the AHTC /PRPTC case would still be hanging over WP as it campaigns for the upcoming general election.
It is also important to note that delays in trials can lead to escalating costs. Given that Singh’s fees are likely to be paid by PRPTC, which is run by public funds, is it best use of money to delay the trial instead of using another lawyer that is already on the case (assuming that Singh has a team)?
Back in 2018, a resident had queried the fees paid to Singh and was told (after repeated calls) by a representative of PRPTC that the town council could not give further information until the court case is concluded. Does this mean that the residents will not know what is being spent on the law suit before the general election?
While it is understandable for trial dates to be moved due to extenuating circumstances, does Singh’s illness amount to such extenuating circumstances? Could a colleague not step in?
In Leong’s case, this postponement would no doubt cause undue stress given that the trial could be hanging over his head well into 2021. Given that Leong is but an individual while Lee is the Prime Minister, this was always going to be a David versus Goliath battle. To delay it at this juncture seems unfair when a colleague could presumably step in.
Is Singh the only lawyer who can act as counsel for Lee?
According to Leong’s counsel, Lim Tean, the Courts have immediately granted the Prime Minister’s application to postpone the trial by letter without hearing oral arguments put forward by both sides. Without suggesting that the Courts have done anything untoward, it does lead one to question if the same leniency would have been accorded to Leong and Lim had the roles been reversed?