The Singapore High Court earlier this week dismissed lawyer Lim Tean’s application to discontinue police investigations against him.
One of the investigations pertains to alleged criminal breach of trust (CBT) under Section 409 of the Penal Code. The other investigation relates to alleged stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).
The CBT investigation is conducted by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force.
Explaining his grounds for setting aside Mr Lim’s application, Justice Ang Cheng Hock in a written judgement released on Tuesday (8 December) said that Mr Lim’s case met only the first two out of three grounds required before the orders sought can be granted.
The first is that “the subject matter of the complaint has to be susceptible to judicial review”.
The second is that the applicant “has to have a sufficient interest in the matter”.
The third is that the materials presented before the court “have to disclose an arguable or prima facie case of reasonable suspicion in favour of granting the remedies sought by the applicant”, as per Gobi a/l Avedian and another v Attorney-General and another appeal.
Mr Lim, said Justice Ang, had “fallen far short” of demonstrating the third requirement.
Referencing the alleged undertaking by Investigation Officer Desmond Toh of CAD, Justice Ang reasoned that while the letter on 15 October states that Mr Lim’s presence at the CAD office was required the next day for the purpose of extending bail, it did not limit the requirement solely to that purpose.
The letter, said the judge, did not indicate that “there would be no interview of the plaintiff (Mr Lim) on that day”.
“For completeness, I should add that, in his affidavit, IO Toh also denied ever making the alleged undertaking or any undertaking of a similar nature to the plaintiff or his counsel,” Justice Ang added.
Thus, the judge agreed with the defendant’s counsel that IO Toh and the CAD “did not make any undertaking” via the 15 October letter to not take a statement from Mr Lim the day after the letter was issued.
“Given that the plaintiff relied only on the 15 October letter and nothing more, there was, therefore, no prima facie evidence of the alleged undertaking,” said Justice Ang.
The judge also highlighted that even if there was “such an undertaking” by IO Toh, Mr Lim had “failed to make any submissions as to the legal effect” of such an “undertaking” and its “breach”.
“In short, the plaintiff’s case in relation to the declaration about the alleged undertaking was a complete non-starter,” said Justice Ang.
Touching on the prohibiting and mandatory orders sought by Mr Lim against the CAD’s investigations, Justice Ang said that Mr Lim had also failed to “cite any authorities or any legal principle to support his rather remarkable contention that the Court could, in appropriate circumstances, grant orders to stop the CAD and the police from continuing their investigations into complaints that had been made”.
Justice Ang, in his judgement on Tuesday, however, was unconvinced that there was “an arguable or prima facie case of reasonable suspicion” that justifies Mr Lim’s action of seeking the aforementioned prohibitory and mandatory orders.
Citing Anwar Siraj and another v Ting Kang Chung John, Justice Ang noted that the Singapore Court of Appeal, in that case, had allowed the respondent’s application to strike out the appellants’ appeal, primarily because “the notice of appeal was filed out of time and the circumstances of the case did not merit an extension of time”.
“This was partly because the appellants had failed to show that the court had the power, in a civil suit, to make a mandatory order against the said law enforcement agencies when the said agencies were not a party to the proceedings,” Justice Ang reasoned.
He also referenced the English Court of Appeal’s decision in R v Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, ex p Central Electricity Generating Board, which was cited in Anwar Siraj.
The English Court of Appeal, in that case, ruled that while a breach of the peace was found, the court would issue orders to the police as to how they should conduct their duties.
Justice Ang cited the specific line of reasoning:
“[i]t is of the first importance that the police should decide on their own responsibility what action should be taken in any particular situation”.
Thus, Justice Ang, based on the Singapore Court of Appeal’s observations in Anwar Siraj, even if appellants had initiated proceedings correctly — for judicial review by seeking a mandamus or now known as a mandatory order — the court would have set aside the application, as “it was not for this court to instruct the law enforcement agencies as to how they should go about doing their jobs”.
Mr Lim’s counsel Mr Ravi, he observed, had “completely failed” to address the above issue.
“No statutory provision, case precedent, or legal principle was cited by the plaintiff for the proposition that it would have been appropriate for the Court to stop the police from carrying out its investigations in this case,” said Justice Ang.
The Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), on the other hand, outlines “detailed procedures” on how the police should conduct its investigations and record statements from persons of interest.
Even for criminal prosecutions carried out by the A-G, Justice Ang highlighted, it has been established that the A-G’s discretion to prosecute under Article 35(8) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore is only subject to judicial review in two situations: One, where there are instances of prosecutorial power, and two, where “its exercise contravenes constitutional protections and rights”.
Mr Lim, the judge reasoned, did not seek to submit that these limits may, or should be, extended to the police, assuming that such limits could be extended in such investigations.
Mr Lim also did not prove that the police “had acted in bad faith or in contrary to the Constitution in this case”, Justice Ang added.
Nothing in AJPA grants power to the Court to halt police investigations, even if contempt of court was found: High Court
Justice Ang also noted that Mr Lim’s case against the CAD investigations was that it would amount to “contempt of court” under Section 3(1)(e) of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act (AJPA), as “the subject matter of the investigations” is “before the State Courts”.
Mr Ravi on 13 October earlier said in a Facebook post that he had notified the Attorney-General of Mr Lim’s intention to commence the said contempt of court proceedings against IO Toh, as well as CAD director David Chew “and the three officers who unlawfully arrested” Mr Lim.
Justice Ang, however, found that Mr Lim had failed to prove any prima facie case of contempt of court.
Contempt under Section 3 of the AJPA, the judge pointed out, covers the “interference of the court process or publications which risk prejudicing or interfering with legal proceedings or the course of justice”.
Contempt under Section 4 of the AJPA, on the other hand, refers to “disobeying court orders and breaching undertakings given to the court”.
The judge said that he was not of the opinion that any issue of contempt of court could arise “by the mere fact that the CAD is carrying on its investigations into the plaintiff’s actions”.
“The mere fact that parallel criminal investigations are ongoing does not, in and of itself, pose a real risk of interference with or obstruction of the administration of justice within the meaning of s 3(1)(e) of the AJPA,” said Justice Ang.
It was also “telling”, said the judge, that Mr Lim “did not and could not point” to any interference or obstruction from CAD in regards to proceedings related to the alleged CBT pertaining to the motor injury case.
“Furthermore, from the affidavit evidence, it appeared that the CAD investigations were still in their early stages. What, if any, specific charges might be brought as a result of the investigations in this case were still not known at that time. Quite obviously, this would depend on the outcome of the investigations and the assessment of the case by the Attorney-General’s Chambers,” said Justice Ang.
Even if there were contempt of court and the relevant person was sentenced accordingly, there is “nothing in the AJPA that gives the Court the power to halt criminal investigations as a result of any commission of contempt of court”, the judge ruled.
Alleged collusion between two IOs “entirely unclear”; Lim Tean provided “nothing more than a bare assertion”: High Court, regarding investigation under POHA
Touching on the collusion between IO Toh and another IO, Hannah Cheong, alleged by Mr Lim regarding their investigations into his purported unlawful stalking under POHA, Justice Ang said that it was “entirely unclear” to him as to what the alleged collusion entailed, apart from that the two officers had “made a phone call together” to Mr Lim on 23 September.
“The plaintiff had provided nothing more than a bare assertion without any details and without any supporting evidence. In short, there was no prima facie evidence of this alleged collusion,” the judge observed, adding that such “skimpy or vague” claims do not “satisfy even the low threshold for leave”.
The two IOs, Justice Ang said, had explained clearly on affidavit that they had scheduled to interview the plaintiff on the same date for convenience to save Mr Lim “the trouble of attending the Police Cantonment Complex twice on different days, given that the CAD and the Central Division are both located in that complex”.
“I found this to be a perfectly sensible and, indeed, inherently logical thing for the two officers to have done, and I am unable to comprehend the plaintiff’s cause for complaint,” he added.
Justice Ang further said that there was no legal basis upon which Mr Lim could rest an arguable case on that would enable the court to grant him the orders he sought.
Mr Lim, the judge elaborated, “could not explain what legal effect, if any, the alleged collusion had on the investigations”.
Mr Ravi, said Justice Ang, also argued that IO Cheong had compromised her independence by allowing IO Toh to request the plaintiff to come down for an interview on her behalf.
Such an argument, according to the judge, is insufficient to raise any issues about IO Cheong’s independence.
“It is quite clear to me that it was only for sake of convenience that a single officer wrote to the plaintiff on 23 September 2020 to arrange the interviews he would be attending at the Police Cantonment Complex on 28 September 2020. In my view, that was unobjectionable,” said Justice Ang.
Background of the case
The alleged CBT investigation is based on Mr Lim’s purported misappropriation of a sum of S$30,000 he had received from AXA Insurance Pte Ltd on behalf of his former client Suresh Kumar for a motor injury claim.
The sum was part of a larger S$50,000 sum, which Guo Nengqing — the defendant in the accident claim — was ordered to pay to Mr Kumar as damages, as Mr Kumar suffered injuries as a result of Mr Guo’s negligence.
At some point, Mr Lim was replaced by Joseph Chen as Mr Kumar’s lawyer.
AXA Insurance, Mr Guo’s insurer, was said to have made the S$30,000 payment to Carson Law Chambers — where Mr Lim practices — despite them no longer being Mr Kumar’s solicitors.
Mr Chen had then lodged a police report on behalf of Mr Guo after Mr Kumar claimed that he did not receive the S$30,000 sum.
TOC however understands that Mr Lim had made payment to Mr Kumar and had documentation proof of the payment — all of these which CAD is made aware of.
Mr Lim was arrested by plainclothes police officers at his office on 2 October, just a week before the hearing of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s defamation suit against veteran blogger Leong Sze Hian.
Mr Lim’s lawyer M Ravi said in a Facebook post on 2 October that three officers from 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.
Mr Ravi said that Mr Lim — the chief of the People’s Voice political party — had said that “his arrest is politically motivated”. Police, however, denied this assertion.
In dismissing Mr Lim’s application on Tuesday, which the judge found to have been “utterly devoid of legal merit”, Justice Ang ordered Mr Lim to pay S$7,500 in costs, inclusive of disbursements.