Court explains why appeal against blogger dismissed

An e-filing glitch caused the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to miss its deadline when it filed an appeal for permission - denied by the High Court - to prosecute blogger Alex Au for contempt of court.

So it got a duty judge at the High Court to grant it an extension on the deadline.

But the Court of Appeal has now ruled the duty judge had no power to grant such an extension.

It has also thrown out the appeal, saying it was late and as it was not "validly commenced", the court had no powers to act on the matter at hand.

The application was also tantamount to a fresh application which it had no jurisdiction to deal with.

In judgment grounds released yesterday, the court, comprising Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang and V.K. Rajah, explained why it disagreed with the application procedure by the prosecutors seeking to indict Mr Au over an allegedly offensive article posted last year.

The court had dismissed the Attorney-General's appeal on the technicality in February.

Justice Phang wrote that the "inexorable conclusion" is that the court was not authorised to hear the application like a court of first instance and give permission for contempt proceedings to proceed.

He noted there were no precedents brought to the court's notice from common law countries where an appellate court heard contempt proceedings afresh.

The judge added that it would be "extremely odd" for an appellate court to hear afresh application, given that the consequent decision would be "unappealable" before the same court.

The 31-page judgment clarified its role as an appellate court in contempt application proceedings which included a review of past procedure here and abroad.

The AGC had sought permission from the High Court in November last year to pursue contempt proceedings against Mr Au for two articles he had published on his blog, Yawning Bread.

Justice Belinda Ang allowed the case for one but not the other to proceed.

The AG then appealed for permission for the second case, but the application was filed beyond the seven-day deadline because of an error in a document which caused the e-filing to be rejected initially. It then asked for and was granted an extension by a duty judge.

But the court found the duty judge had no powers to sit as an appeal court and grant the extension.

It followed then that as the application was "not validly commenced in the first place, there is nothing before this court; consequently the court does not have the power to make an order on the matters in issue", said Justice Phang.

A new hearing before the Court of Appeal is due on Thursday where the AG will apply for an extension of time to appeal against the High Court decision and to expedite procedures.

Mr Au's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, is seeking at the same time to appear and contest the move and the appeal proper if the extension is granted.

This article was published on MONTH DAY in The Straits Times.

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