Court of Appeal dismisses ex-DPP's case

Court of Appeal dismisses ex-DPP's case

The Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed an attempt by lawyer Spencer Gwee Hak Theng to get the highest court in Singapore to hear his case for having paid sex with a minor.

Gwee, 60, was found guilty and sentenced to four months in jail by a district court in July last year for paying a 16-year-old Vietnamese prostitute $300 for sex at a hotel in Geylang.

His appeal to the High Court was dismissed four months later by Justice Choo Han Teck.

But Gwee, who was a prosecutor in the early stages of his nearly 40-year legal career, then sought recourse to the apex court to decide on what he said were legal issues in his case.

His lawyer, Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, argued yesterday the case raised three questions of law of public interest which the Court of Appeal should consider and rule on. The questions were: whether procedural safeguards existed in the photographic identification of offenders, whether the prosecution must use the "best evidence" to prove a minor's age, and the standard of proof a judge must use in hearing a criminal appeal.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Terence Chua argued these were not questions of law of public interest and Gwee's attempt to bring his case to the apex court was simply a disguised appeal.

The Court of Appeal, comprising Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Justice Tay Yong Kwang, agreed that the case should go no further.

Justice Chao said the first two questions were not legal issues but questions of fact relating to the particular circumstances of Gwee's case and were matters for the trial judge to decide.

As for the third question, Justice Chao said every lawyer - as well as the judge who heard Gwee's appeal - knew the prosecution had to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Citing the Criminal Procedure Code, he noted that an appellate court can overturn the decision only when it is satisfied that the trial court was wrong in law or had gone against the weight of the evidence. In this case, he said, Justice Choo was satisfied the trial judge had not decided against the weight of the evidence.

Gwee was allowed to start serving his sentence on May 16.

In a separate case, the Court of Appeal granted more time to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to appeal against a decision by the High Court regarding contempt of court proceedings against blogger Alex Au.

Last November, the AGC had sought permission from the High Court to prosecute Mr Au for two articles he had published on his blog, Yawning Bread.

Justice Belinda Ang gave the green light for one post, made on Oct 5, in which he allegedly accused the Supreme Court of intentionally manipulating hearing dates. But she disallowed proceedings against a second post, dated Oct 12, which allegedly accused the judiciary of being incapable of making independent judgments.

The AGC appealed but missed the seven-day deadline because of a technical glitch in the electronic-filing system. It then asked a duty High Court judge for a time extension and was granted it. In March, however, the Court of Appeal found the duty judge did not have the power to grant a time extension. Since the application was therefore not valid, the court said it did not have the power to act on the AG's request.

Yesterday, the AGC returned to ask the three-judge Court of Appeal for a time extension to file its appeal. This time, it succeeded. The court also ruled that Mr Au's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, can be present at the appeal - to be heard in July at the earliest - but he cannot make arguments.

This article was published on May 9 in The Straits Times.

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