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Court of Appeal hears Li Shengwu's appeal in contempt of court case

Court of Appeal hears Li Shengwu's appeal in contempt of court case

Li Shengwu, the nephew of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is seen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US on Aug 12, 2017. (File photo: Reuters/Tim McLaughlin)

SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal on Friday (Jan 18) heard the arguments in Mr Li Shengwu's appeal against a previous decision that allowed the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to serve papers on him outside Singapore.

The papers were in relation to a contempt of court case. Mr Li, the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was taken to court by the AGC for allegedly saying in a Facebook post in July 2017 that Singapore has a "pliant court system" and that the Singapore Government was "very litigious".

Mr Li, 34, had applied to set aside the court order that granted the AGC permission to serve papers on him in the US, but the High Court dismissed his application in March 2018.

READ: AGC takes action against Li Shengwu for contempt of court over Facebook post

Mr Li, who now lives in the United States and is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Harvard University, then turned to the highest court in Singapore - the Apex Court, in a bid to appeal the High Court's decision.

After an Apex Court hearing in September last year, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong granted Mr Li the green light to appeal against the High Court's decision.

The Court of Appeal directed both the AGC's lawyers and Mr Li's lawyers to make legal submissions addressing questions including: What written laws, if any, allow the Singapore Court to exercise substantive jurisdiction over a person located overseas in a contempt matter; and whether the AGC can rely on a newly enacted law to serve documents on a person whose alleged contempt of court was committed before the law was enacted.


Mr Li's lawyer, Abraham Vergis, along with AGC's senior counsel Francis Ng, made their arguments in a packed open court to Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong.

Both sides referred to various laws laid down in the Rules of Court, as well as the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (SCJA), in answering the questions posed by the Chief Justice.

Mr Vergis argued that both sections of the SCJA which Mr Ng was relying on "are not the statutory bases" for the court to exercise substantive jurisdiction over a person who has committed contempt of court but who is overseas.

He also disagreed with Mr Ng's assertion that a section in Order 11 of the Rules of Court applies retroactively.

Senior counsel Francis Ng urged the Apex Court to dismiss Mr Li's appeal with costs, saying that there was evidence that Mr Li's Facebook post had been published when he was in Singapore.

"The post concerned the Singapore courts, and only the Singapore courts, and was widely read by the Singaporean public via dissemination of a screenshot of the post," said Mr Ng.

Asked by Justice Tay if his client had been in Singapore at the time of his Facebook post, Mr Vergis said: "I don't propose to give evidence from the bar on this position."

Pressed further, he maintained his decision not to respond to the question as "that's not a matter of evidence".

"The Attorney-General has put on record that your client was in Singapore," said Justice Tay. "And you have not replied."

Mr Vergis did not address the question. Instead, he took issue with what he said was the AGC changing its basis of jurisdiction from Section 7 of the SCJA to Section 15 of the SCJA, but Mr Ng said its position "has not changed".

Mr Ng stressed that the action the AGC is taking against Mr Li is based on existing contempt laws that were already in force when he allegedly made the offending Facebook post.

Mr Vergis also asserted that the court has no power to serve contempt proceedings on a person overseas, unless the person submits to the court.

The judges reserved their judgment.


The Facebook post at the heart of the case was made on the back of a public spat between Mr Li's father, aunt and uncle: Mr Lee Hsien Yang, Dr Lee Wei Ling and PM Lee.

A view of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's Oxley Road residence in Singapore, taken in June 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su) FILE PHOTO - A view of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's Oxley Road residence in Singapore June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

READ: Dispute over 38 Oxley Road: A timeline of events

The arguments revolved around the future of the former family home at 38 Oxley Road, which belonged to Mr Li's grandfather, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

In the months since the last public hearing over Mr Li's case, his father Mr Lee Hsien Yang has spoken out on Facebook about a case of "possible professional misconduct" that the AGC has flagged to the Law Society over his wife, Ms Lee Suet Fern.

READ: AGC alleges ‘possible professional misconduct’ by Lee Hsien Yang's wife

READ: Lee Hsien Yang says wife was never Lee Kuan Yew's lawyer, questions timing of AGC's move

AGC said in a statement earlier this month that Ms Lee "appears to have prepared the Last Will of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and arranged for Mr Lee Kuan Yew to execute it, despite the fact that her husband, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, is one of the beneficiaries under the Last Will".

Both Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling took to Facebook to air their views about the AGC's "relentless" pursuit of Mr Li, as well as its assertions against Ms Lee Suet Fern.

Source: CNA/ll(cy)


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