High Court takes two to task in separate cases

High Court takes two to task in separate cases
Justice Sundaresh Menon

THE High Court had sharp words for an expert who produced a flawed report and a woman who sought court approval to include documents of doubtful value, as it explained its verdicts in two cases in judgment grounds released last week.

In the first case, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who reduced an offender's jail term from eight to six months on hearing the appeal, took issue with a medical report produced to support her plea for a reduced punishment.

The medical report was meant to show the offender suffered from depression but also included her explanation for her criminal conduct.

It made the medical report look more like a fact-finding report than a professional medical opinion, giving a detailed account of what happened in an "exceedingly favourable" manner to the offender, said the Chief Justice.

Describing the report as "lacking in objectivity" and "plainly erroneous", he said either the doctor was given the wrong facts and had "not bothered to check them even cursorily", or he had misunderstood the facts.

Either way, this worked against any weight being given to the report, he said, adding that experts owe their duty first and foremost to the court and not to the client who pays their fee.

"The doctor in this case did himself no credit because he did not give me the sense that he had even a basic conception of the responsibility he owed the court when he put himself forward as an expert," said CJ Menon.

In the case, Indian national Mehra Radhika, 22, had pleaded guilty to arranging a marriage of convenience between a female Singaporean and an Indian national to make it easier for the latter to get a work permit and extend his stay here.

She appealed against the eight-month jail term, which CJ Menon reduced to six months, noting this was one-off and there were no factors supporting an "unusually stiff sentence".

He added that the aggravating factors called for a jail term but the circumstances were not so exceptional to justify a term exceeding six months.

In the second case, Ms Jeanne-Marie Ten had sued the National University of Singapore (NUS), claiming it had wrongfully terminated her candidature for the degree of Master of Arts in Architecture in 2006.

In the eight-year saga, Ms Ten, 44, alleged she passed the thesis examination but was denied the degree. She claimed NUS had breached the contract signed between them in 2001, which governed the conditions of her study.

In filing documents to support her claims, Ms Ten had applied to court to amend her statement of claim to refer to two e-mails sent to her in 2011 by the Ministry of Education (MOE), among other things.

NUS, which is fighting the suit, objected to the inclusion of the e-mails, arguing they were sent on a "without prejudice" basis and were privileged from disclosure.

A High Court assistant registrar ordered the inclusion earlier this year but Justice Woo Bih Li allowed the appeal by NUS. In judgment grounds released last week, the judge said: "It is a pity that some time and money have been spent on this issue." He said Ms Ten appeared to think that the MOE e-mails could be used to show MOE knew that certain conditions it imposed were unlawful and exceeded its obligations and authority.

"It is questionable how much probative value the MOE e-mails would have had in the overall dispute, even if they were admissible in evidence," he said. "However, I say no more on this."

vijayan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 8, 2014.
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