Govt, judges cannot be sued for judicial decisions: Apex court

Govt, judges cannot be sued for judicial decisions: Apex court
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The apex court has made it clear that neither the Government nor judges can be sued for judicial decisions made, pointing to judicial immunity under the the Government Proceedings Act (GPA).

The court yesterday released judgment grounds on why it had thrown out the $54 million in claims that a contractor and his firm had made against the Government, in a case which saw the Government's liability for judicial acts dealt with for the first time by the Court of Appeal.

At issue before the court comprising Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang, and Justice Tay Yong Kwang, was whether the Government could rely on the GPA to resist the claims.

"In Singapore, the general rule is that the Government may be liable for, inter alia, the tortious acts of its public officers," noted Justice Chao. This means that the Government is liable like any ordinary employer.

However, exceptions to this rule specified in the Act include those exercising judicial functions, he said.

The litigant in the case and his firm Ho Pak Kim Realty (HPK) were disgruntled with the outcomes of two court cases and sued the Government for the way judges handled the cases.

The first case involved a set of court orders between 2009 and 2011 governing ancillary matters after the marriage of the litigant - known only by his initials AHQ to protect his two children - was dissolved. This included care and custody of his children.

The second case involved a spat between his firm and developer Revitech over a construction project. The case stretched seven years from 2006.

Last year, he sued the Government, seeking $50 million in damages for judicial orders made in relation to the ancillary matters of his divorce, claiming not only that the orders were wrong but also the judges involved had acted maliciously against him.

In the second case, HPK sought $4.8 million in damages, alleging that the judge involved had acted unfairly and the appeals court had erred in supporting the judge's decision.

A High Court judge rejected the two appeals last September.

The litigant appealed further and the Court of Appeal ruled that the High Court was right in dismissing the suits. The court said the litigant and his firm had either exhausted their rights of appeal or refused to pursue the proper means of seeking recourse. "To any reasonable person, that should have been the end of the matter. Regrettably, AHQ and HPK did not think so."

Justice Chao said for the judicial system to function properly, the judiciary should not be "harassed by frivolous claims".

The GPA applied in this case as the court orders in question were made during judicial proceedings, he said.

"The independence of the Judiciary is one of the foundation pillars of Singapore's constitutional framework and must not be shaken. To this end, the Government should not be liable for the acts of the Judiciary, over which it has no control or influence," wrote Judge Chao.

vijayan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 25, 2015.
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