SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal on Monday (Apr 1) dismissed an appeal by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's nephew Li Shengwu over the service of papers for a contempt of court case.
Appeal Judge Steven Chong dismissed Mr Li's bid to appeal the High Court's decision to allow the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) permission to serve papers on him in the United States, where Mr Li now lives.
The 34-year-old Assistant Professor of Economics at Harvard University had allegedly said in a Facebook post in July 2017, viewable only by his Facebook friends, that Singapore has a "pliant court system" and that the Singapore Government was "very litigious".
The AGC then served papers on him in relation to contempt of court in the US, and Mr Li applied to the High Court to set aside the court order granting this service of papers on him.
However, the High Court dismissed his application in March 2018. On Monday, the Court of Appeal again dismissed his appeal.
Justice Steven Chong said in a written judgment that the service of the papers was "properly granted" on the basis of Order 11 of the Rules of Court.
He agreed with the decision of the High Court judge, who ruled that Section 7 of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act gave the High Court jurisdiction to commit for contempt.
CONTEMPT PROCEEDINGS TO MOVE INTO "SUBSTANTIVE STAGE"
In response to the outcome of the appeal, the AGC on Monday said that "contempt proceedings against Mr Li now move into the substantive stage".
AGC also noted the Court of Appeal's observations on the AG making new arguments at the appeal stage.
During the appeal, the AG had said it would also rely on a different segment on the Supreme Court of Judicature Act.
Mr Li's lawyer had taken issue with this, and the Court of Appeal agreed that the AG's case was "not consistent" and had shifted, "unwittingly creat(ing) difficulties of his own doing".
AGC said in a statement after the written judgment was released on Monday that the new arguments were given in response to questions raised by the Court of Appeal.
"Nevertheless, AGC notes the court’s comments, and will stand guided by them," it said.
AGC added that it has always taken a strict view of contempt of court and prosecuted them when they are egregious, an approach dating from Singapore’s independence.
BOTH SIDES ARGUED OVER JURISDICTION
During the appeal, the AG argued that scandalising contempt was a type of criminal contempt and engaged the High Court's original criminal jurisdiction.
According to the AG, jurisdiction was not established by the service of the papers, but had already been established by the fact that Mr Li, the son of PM Lee's brother Lee Hsien Yang, was in Singapore when he published the alleged post.
However, Mr Li, through his lawyer Abraham Vergis, argued that proper service of the papers in accordance with the Rules of Court was what established jurisdiction over someone who committed contempt of court.
Personal jurisdiction over the individual would also have to be established by proper service of the papers, Mr Li's lawyer argued.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, along with Judges of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong, who heard the case, ruled that the court "takes personal jurisdiction over a foreign contemnor".
The judges noted that "the specific issue before us is unlikely to repeat itself for future cases involving foreign contemnors", given that it is now established that service of papers outside jurisdiction is firmly grounded under Order 11 of the Rules of Court.
"Nonetheless, this judgment serves to explain the proper source of the court's jurisdiction as well as the correct juridical basis for contempt cases," wrote the judges.
Mr Li in a Facebook post put up shortly after the written judgment was published, said that he was "of course disappointed with the judgment".
"However, the AG will still need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that my private Facebook post somehow scandalised Singapore’s judiciary," he wrote, adding that it has been a year and eight months "since this surreal mess started".
"One wonders how much state resources have been spent going after myself and my mother? As far as I can tell, my uncle, Lee Hsien Loong, seems quite happy with the situation, even though it reminds everyone of his shameful conduct over 38 Oxley Road," he wrote.
Mr Li's mother Lee Suet Fern has been accused of possible professional misconduct in preparing the last will of her father-in-law Lee Kuan Yew.
AGC said in a statement in January that it had made a complaint to the Law Society, a day after PM Lee's sister Lee Wei Ling wrote about the complaint on Facebook.