The Singapore Polo Club was wrong to suspend its honorary secretary for two months last year, as its Constitution did not allow for disciplinary probes against a committee member, the High Court has found.
The only breach requiring a committee member to step down is if he fails to attend meetings thrice or is out of Singapore for three months without good cause, according to the Constitution of the 128-year-old club.
Judicial Commissioner Tan Siong Thye said it was thus outside the jurisdiction of the club's Constitution to discipline office- bearer Lawrence Khong.
The court, which quashed the club's suspension last December, released a 32-page judgment yesterday explaining its decision.
Lawyers said it was a significant reference point affording some protection to committee members who serve in such clubs.
It would provide guidance as to the type of members who can make up disciplinary tribunals and could see club Constitutions being more tightly drafted to deal with committee members on disciplinary issues.
The club had convened a disciplinary probe and suspended Mr Khong for sending an e-mail to club members and the Registry of Societies questioning the conduct of the club's committee over a motion against the previous year's leadership.
A vote of no confidence against the 2012 committee during an annual general meeting was reversed when the votes were recounted. Mr Khong, believing the results were changed improperly, sought legal advice, was reprimanded by the committee and then issued the mass e-mail about his concerns.
His lawyers Daniel Goh and Adrian Wee took the case to the High Court, where they argued the disciplinary tribunal was tainted by bias, among other things. They also noted he had sent the e-mail in his official capacity and could not therefore be disciplined.
JC Tan agreed there was "more than a reasonable suspicion of bias" on the part of the five 2013 committee members who had formed the disciplinary tribunal.
Mr Khong, a former national polo player who is also pastor and founder of the Faith Community Baptist Church, said yesterday he would be dropping the claim for damages and waiving costs ordered against the club. He added that the club would not appeal or take up this issue with him again.
"I think the club should be a happy place, have goodwill and move on from here," he said.
This article was published on April 23 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.