Lawyer Lim Tean has filed an application in High Court to disqualify the Attorney-General from representing the Commercial Affairs Department, the Singapore Police Force and their officers in matters pertaining to ongoing investigations against him.
Mr Lim’s counsel M Ravi said in a Facebook post on Wednesday (28 October) that he made the application on behalf of his client based on “a conflict of interest between the Attorney-General and the Public Prosecutor’s office”.
The possible conflict of interest in the office of the Attorney-General, said Mr Ravi, was raised by former Attorney-General Walter Woon in an op-ed in The Straits Times, published in September 2017.
In his piece, Prof Woon drew a distinction between a civil suit and prosecution using the context of defamation — the former primarily concerns the plaintiff or injured party seeking compensation, while the latter focuses on protecting public interest “by imposing some sort of punishment, often as a deterrent to others”.
‘When giving advice on civil cases by or against the Government, on legislation, on matters of international law, the Attorney-General is the Government’s Attorney-General. He is obliged to defer to the Cabinet when it comes to issues pertaining to civil litigation, international law and the drafting of legislation.
“But when it comes to his role as public prosecutor, the Attorney-General is not the Government’s Attorney-General. He is given discretion over prosecutions by the Constitution. It cannot be the case that he should just prosecute if a senior minister wants that to be done,” he wrote.
Highlighting that the Attorney-General of Singapore has two roles — the Government’s legal adviser and public prosecutor — he argued that the two functions should be separated.
The three non-prosecution divisions of the Attorney-General’s Chambers — civil, legislation and international affairs — should then be designated to the Solicitor-General, as an example, Prof Woon suggested.
“The prosecutorial function should be left with the Attorney-General, who would have the two prosecution divisions in his charge,” he said.
Stressing that the appointment of the Attorney-General is made by the President with the advice of the Prime Minister, Prof Woon proposed that the appointment should “ideally” be carried out “in consultation with the Chief Justice and the incumbent Attorney-General”.
This is to ensure that the Attorney-General will not be seen as “a political creature of the ruling party”, he said.
Mr Ravi today said that he and his client are contending that the legal advice to the CAD and SPF — in relation to the judicial review application Mr Ravi had filed separately to challenge the legality of Mr Lim’s arrest and the investigation — may cause Mr Lim to be “prosecuted for offences in Court”.
They also argued that Mr Lim’s role “as a prominent opposition politician” may also expose him to “a risk of apparent biasness where justice must not only be done but also seen to be done”.
Justice Ang Cheng Hock will hear the matter in the High Court next Thursday (5th November) at 2.30pm.
Previously, it was announced that Mr Lim intended to begin contempt of court proceedings against David Chew — director of the CAD — and police officers who were involved in his alleged unlawful arrest.
Mr Ravi said in a Facebook post on 13 October that he had notified the Attorney-General of Mr Lim’s intention to commence the said proceedings against the CAD director, as well as Investigation Officer Desmond Toh “and the three officers who unlawfully arrested” his client on 2 October.
The rationale behind intending to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the above individuals, said Mr Ravi, is that the subject matter of the investigation is related to an ongoing civil case in the State Courts.
The civil case in question, he said, will be further heard in open court on 27 October.
Background on Lim Tean’s arrest
It was previously reported that three officers from the CAD “just barged into the office” at the People’s Park Centre and arrested his client while Mr Lim was in the midst of his preparation for Mr Leong’s case.
Noting that Mr Lim requested him to make the statement on his behalf, Mr Ravi said — shortly after his client was arrested on 2 October — that his client had “protested when they placed the handcuff on him” and that he believes “his arrest is politically motivated”.
“In fact the subject matter in relation to the investigation is before the civil court and I have written to the police to that effect to respect the due process. Therefore this arrest is unlawful,” said Mr Ravi.
The police in a statement the same day said that Mr Lim’s arrest was made based on alleged criminal breach of trust under Section 409 of the Penal Code.
“In respect of the CBT offence, a Police report was lodged by the counsel of Mr Lim Tean’s former client (for whom Mr Lim Tean had acted in a motor injury suit). The former client alleged that Mr Lim Tean had misappropriated a sum of money awarded to him as damages by the court,” said the police.
Police added that Mr Lim is also being investigated for alleged stalking under Section 7(1) of the Protection from Harassment Act.
The allegation arose from a former employee of Mr Lim, who lodged a police report in relation to the matter.
According to the police, she alleged that she was harassed by him when she was working at his law firm.
The employee also referred the police to text messages allegedly exchanged between her and Mr Lim.
Noting that he reserves Mr Lim’s right to make the necessary applications in court, Mr Ravi said — in a letter to CAD on 28 September — that compelling his client to make a statement regarding the matter would violate the due process of the administration of justice.
“Since the subject matter of the monies is before the State Court, we are of the respectful view that the due process should take its course and respect to the administration of justice must be adhered to by all parties including the police.
“And any steps on your part to compel our client to give a statement would go against the due administration of justice and we reserve our client’s right to take the necessary applications in court,” Mr Ravi wrote, referencing Mr Lim’s letter to the CAD on 27 September.
While Mr Ravi sought a follow-up from the CAD to be able to advise Mr Lim on the police request to attend an interview at the Cantonment Police Complex, the police reportedly did not respond to the lawyer’s letter.
The police however in a later statement said that it had contacted Mr Lim and issued him with a written notice on 23 September to attend a compulsory interview on 28 September at the Police Cantonment Complex to “assist with investigations” into the two alleged offences.
“He was also told that if he wanted, he can reschedule the interview to another date. However, Mr Lim Tean replied through his counsel on 27 September 2020 that he had no intention of turning up for any Police interview,” said the police.
The police stressed that it has “a responsibility to investigate reports which are made, if prima facie they disclose a basis for further investigations”.
“Persons called for Police interviews must comply. As Mr Lim Tean did not cooperate with the notice to attend an interview with Police, and had stated clearly that he had no intent to comply, the Police had no choice but to arrest Mr Lim Tean in order to conduct the investigations,” according to the police.