Settling it out of court... with fists

SINGAPORE - Courts of law are where learned adversaries engage in legal battles, using evidence and eloquence to make their case.

But on Thursday, a different sort of battle unfolded outside the Subordinate Courts at Havelock Square.

It looked like a case of antagonists resorting to violence to settle what they could not in court. As two men scuffled and exchanged blows, a woman also joined in for good measure.

Her weapon of choice - a shopping bag that she swung at one of the men who had earlier confronted her.

It is not clear what had transpired inside the court, but there was obvious bad blood as the men went wildly at each other for about five minutes.

By the time they were separated, shirts had been ripped, faces bruised and scratched, and even their hands appeared swollen.

It took about 10 security personnel and police officers another 10 minutes to calm them down and send them on their way.

Mr Jeremy Long, 27, a photojournalist with The New Paper, arrived at the Subordinate Courts just past 3pm and saw two men, one in his 20s and the other in his 30s or 40s, and a woman coming out of the building. All of them looked Caucasian.

Mr Long saw the older man speaking to the woman and his body language was confrontational.

"They stood there for about one to two minutes. I could see that he was raising his voice," he said. "Then the younger man suddenly punched him and they started fighting."

Mr Long immediately took out his camera to take pictures of the fight.

"They seemed to be in a rage, throwing punches at each other's faces without so much as a pause."

He said the men grabbed arms and tugged shirts, but they managed to remain on their feet throughout.

When the fight began, the woman, who seemed to be with the younger man, placed her hand on his shoulder, as if to stop him. She even tried to get in between the two men when they had their arms around each other's necks, Mr Long said.

But as the fight went on, she swung her shopping bag at the older man and hit him about three times.

A security guard from inside the building saw the fracas and ran out.

Stopped fight

Mr Long said that once the guard separated the men, they stopped fighting almost immediately.

"They just stood a few metres apart and glared at each other."

The guard called for back-up and about 10 guards and policemen showed up.

A witness, who did not want to be named, noticed that the men's faces were scratched and their hands were swollen. Their shirts were also torn.

"They were shouting something about owing money," he said.

A lawyer, Mr Peter Ezekiel, who was passing by, said they appeared to be speaking in Russian or an Eastern European language.

Mr Long said that as the police were taking down their particulars, another woman turned up to join the older man.

The two couples then left separately without speaking to each other.

A Subordinate Courts spokesman said on Friday that there was an altercation between two court users after they exited the building at 3.07pm on Thursday.

No arrests were made, she said.

The spokesman said that one of the parties filed a magistrate's complaint on Friday.

They were in court to attend a hearing for an application for leave to appeal to the High Court in a Small Claims Tribunal case. The application was denied, she said.

There were no details on what their case is about. The Tribunal resolves small claims between consumers and traders, and handles cases involving sums up to $10,000, though the limit can be raised to $20,000 if the parties agree.

A police spokesman said: "The parties involved were told not to breach the peace and to settle the dispute amicably."

Mr Ezekiel, a lawyer of 11 years, said that such fights outside the courts are not common.

"I've seen people shouting and crying, but it's the first time I saw a fight," he said.

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