In a 66-page judgement released on Monday (1 April), the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by Mr Li Shengwu to contest the court order which enabled the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) to serve papers on him in the United States for the alleged offence of contempt of court.
The judges ruled that the service out of the jurisdiction was properly effected on Mr Li because the Attorney General (AG)’s claim for the court to exercise its power to punish for contempt was perky a claim made under S7(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act.
Following the judgement, Mr Li, posted a status update on Facebook.
Mr Li, who is nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, noted that while the case will now proceed due to a ruling from the court that process service on Mr Li was effective, the AGC did not get new rules to be retroactively applied on his contempt of court case.
Although he was disappointed with the judgement, but he wrote that the “AG will still need to prove beyond reasonable doubt” that his Facebook post scandalised the Republic’s judiciary.
His response may be due to the rejected submission by AGC made to the court, for retroactive application of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act (2016) in his case.
Mr Li lawyers had argued that the procedural rule which gives the court power to serve papers on someone outside of Singapore, under the act, cannot be applied retroactively in this case, because the “legislature manifestly did not intend for the provision to apply retroactively”.
The judges had stated in the judgement that Mr Li’s case is Sui Generis, unique by its own.
If retroactive application of the act is allowed, then AGC may refer to the new law and only needs to prove that there is a “risk” that such public confidence will be undermined instead of “real risk”. As set out in the 2015 case of Au Wai Pang v Attorney-General, the AG has to prove a real risk that the impugned statement has undermined or might undermine public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore before one can be found guilty for contempt.
However, the issue that concerns him the most is the amount of state funds that have been spent on the case against him and his mother, Lee Suet Fern.
“Surreal mess” since July 2017
Mr Li, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Harvard University, recounts that it has been one year and eight months since this surreal mess started.
In 15 July 2017, Mr Li wrote in a private Facebook post that is only accessible to his connections and said that “the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system”, which he noted referred to the constraints surrounding what the media is allowed to or able to report regarding the high-profile dispute of his paternal family.
He was referring to the family dispute surrounding the 38 Oxley Road home of Li’s late grandfather and Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in which his father Mr Lee Hsien Yang, his aunt Dr Lee Wei Ling, and Mr Lee Hsien Loong were involved.
After his post, a relatively unknown blog posted a screenshot of his private Facebook post and was spread through Facebook page, Smrt feedback by the Vigilanteh.
Following the shares, AGC issued a public statement to local media that saying that it is looking into a Facebook post by Mr Li, in which he questioned the independence of Singapore’s courts.
On 21 July that year, AGC sent a warning letter to Mr Li claiming that he made “false and baseless allegations” about the lack of independence of the Singapore Judiciary. The warning letter also requested him to “purge the contempt” by deleting the post from his Facebook page and other platforms, and was asked to “issue and post prominently” on his Facebook page a written apology and undertaking drafted by the AGC.
By 4 August 2018, the AGC filed an application in the High Court to start committal proceeding against him for contempt of court, which was permitted by Justice Kannan Ramesh. In October, AGC then “ambushed” Mr Li with “court papers in public” whilst he was delivering a lecture in “Scott Kominers’ brilliant market design class” at Harvard University.
In Dec 2018, the law firm representing Mr Li noted that the court papers filed by the AGC exceeded 1,300 pages.
Following this, Mr Li decided to dispute against it and challenged the court order which enable the AGC to serve papers on him in the United States.
The case against Li’s mother, Lee Suet Fern
As for Mr Li’s mother, she was also slapped with a case in January this year over a “possible professional misconduct” in the preparation of her father-in-law Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s final Will. AGC had lodged a complaint of 500 pages to Law Society about Ms Lee.
AGC claims that it became aware of a possible case of professional misconduct by Ms Lee when she prepared the last Will of the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and arranged for him to execute it, despite the fact that her husband, Lee Hsien Yang, is one of the beneficiaries under the last Will.
Under the legal profession’s rule of conduct, lawyers are not allowed to place themselves in a position of conflict, AGC expressed.
“Where a person intends to make a significant gift by will to any member of the lawyer’s family, the lawyer must not act for the person and must advise him to obtain independent advice in respect of the gift. This rule applies even if the lawyer is related to the person making the gift,” AGC said in its statement.
However, this publication has noted earlier that AGC’s allegations resembles the wordings said by PM Lee in his statutory declarations and the current AG is Mr Lucien Wong who had previously act as PM Lee’s lawyer on the matter of 38 Oxley Road. AGC defended any allegations of impropriety by saying that Mr Wong has recused himself from the complaint to Law Society.