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Top court rejects bid to recuse judge

Top court rejects bid to recuse judge

Source: Straits Times
Date Published: 07 Nov 2018
Author: K.C. Vijayan

It warns of serious consequences for claims of judicial bias that are made without merit.

Singapore's top court has warned of serious consequences for those who make unmeritorious claims of judicial bias, following the decision to dismiss an appeal by a woman to have a judge removed in an acrimonious divorce case.

In backing the judge who did not recuse herself from the "high conflict" case, the Court of Appeal also made it clear that lawyers should not act as mouthpieces for their clients and should guard against their own bias.

The court - which comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash - found neither "apparent bias" nor excessive interference by the judge in the proceedings.

Writing on behalf of the court in judgment grounds last month, Justice Phang said: "We cannot emphasise enough how extremely serious allegations of judicial bias are.

"Should such proceedings arise before the court in the future and be found to be unmeritorious, there may be serious consequences."

The case involved a "broken and severely fractured relationship between former spouses". The former wife had applied for the judge to recuse herself in the course of hearings, which were held to settle ancillary matters in the divorce case. None of the parties was named.

The application in July last year was made on the grounds of the judge's alleged conduct at the four days of hearing in April and Junelast year.

After she failed in her application, the woman appealed to the apex court, where her lawyer Thomas Sim argued that the judge had unduly obstructed the woman's divorce lawyer from effectively presenting her case and had prejudged the case in a way that was adverse to her.

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, in refuting the claims, countered that the unfounded allegations should not be allowed as a matter of policy.

The court held that the woman had not proved apparent bias and the judge had not excessively interfered in the proceedings.

It found the judge's annoyance with the snail's pace at which the proceedings were going was expressed towards both parties and their respective counsel, and added that even if the judge was not "a model of patience with the parties, that would not amount to apparent bias".

In dismissing the appeal, Justice Phang said family proceedings are frequently driven by emotional or even bitter clients.

He added that lawyers "fail to live up to their calling as members of a profession whose hallmarks are honour and justice" when they do not counsel or admonish clients if necessary, and scrupulously observe their duty to the court.

In a separate matter, the top court urged lawyers last month to consider potential legal costs against the size of the claim involved.

In the case, the appeals court set aside a High Court judgment which accepted an adjudicator had breached the rules of natural justice in settling a dispute between main contractor WCS Engineering Construction and subcontractor Glaziers Engineering for work done.

The appeals court noted the adjudicator's award in the case was only for $89,451.95, plus interest and costs, and expressed surprise that, given the relatively small sum in question, "the parties had pursued an application to have the award set aside, which eventually led the matter to be brought before us".

Justice Steven Chong, writing on the court's behalf, said it is important for "litigants to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and to consider, in each case, whether the consequence of a matter justifies the effort and expense of going to court".

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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