Susan Lim back in court this week

SINGAPORE - Singapore's top court starts its legal year this week with a slew of high-profile cases that could have landmark consequences.

They include a Hougang resident's challenge on electoral rights, Dr Susan Lim's epic tussle with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), and whether the decision of the Chief Justice to dismiss a lawyer's complaint can be the subject of further appeal.

Also on the Court of Appeal list this week is ultra-fast broadband network provider OpenNet's bid to challenge the decision of the Info- comm Development Authority of Singapore.

Appeals court decisions are significant because they are binding precedents for similar issues that arise in the future as well as novel issues previously not brought before the court.

In the first of these cases, Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu is seeking court declarations that the prime minister does not have "unfettered discretion" as to when he can call a by-election when a Member of Parliament's seat is prematurely vacated.

She had also sought a declaration that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had to call a by-election in Hougang Single Member Constituency within three months or a reasonable time as the court deems fit.

Her High Court application last year was dismissed by Justice Philip Pillai, who ruled that it was for the prime minister to decide whether or not to call an election to fill a seat vacated by an elected MP.

The issue of the prime minister's discretion emerged after former Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong was expelled by the Workers' Party (WP) and vacated his seat in February last year. An election was subsequently called and the seat filled by WP candidate Png Eng Huat.

Madam Vellama's lawyer M. Ravi said tomorrow's appeal was being advanced in the collective public interest.

Tuesday's case involving Dr Lim's appeal against the disciplinary committee of the SMC, which found her guilty of misconduct, will end a five-year legal saga in relation to fees of about $26 million. She had charged those fees for services that she and other doctors rendered to a late member of the Brunei royal family.

She is appealing against the SMC's finding of guilt and its penalties, which include a three-year suspension and a $10,000 fine.

The case could, among other things, see the court define a landmark line for doctors between where a contract for services ends and the practice of ethics begins.

Billed as the "mother of all SMC disciplinary cases" on account of its drawn-out, big-budget, five-year standoff between two strong- willed parties that involves some of Singapore's best legal talent, the case will be heard by Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and V.K. Rajah, as well as Justice Tan Lee Meng.

A third case, involving a lawyer's complaint against a deputy public prosecutor (DPP) for alleged misconduct, is expected to underline the end point for such complaints and how they are addressed.

Lawyer Zero Nalpon had sought a probe to be started against the DPP in relation to his complaint - the first such move against a DPP.

But this was turned down by then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong last year as he found that Mr Nalpon had failed to make out a prima facie case.

Mr Nalpon appealed and the Court of Appeal held that the preliminary issue to be settled is whether the case can be the subject of further appeal under the Legal Profession Act.

The court last year appointed National University of Singapore law don Goh Yi Han as amicus curiae, or "friend of the court", to provide input independently on this issue. His views will be considered at this week's hearing.

In a fourth high-stakes case, OpenNet is appealing against a High Court judgment dismissing its bid to challenge the IDA on the ownership and control of Singapore's fibre-optic network.

The suit filed by OpenNet in 2011 involves three decisions undertaken by the IDA regarding the network that OpenNet is questioning.

At issue before the Court of Appeal is whether the High Court was correct to dismiss OpenNet's application for leave to start a judicial review.

The total of 15 cases listed for the week will be heard by the three-judge appeals court that will include five judges rostered alongside the Judges of Appeal for some of the cases. They include Justices Judith Prakash, Choo Han Teck and Quentin Loh.

vijayan@sph.com.sg


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