Court dismisses bid to admit QC for 377A appeal
SINGAPORE — The High Court yesterday dismissed an application for a Queen’s Counsel to represent two men who are appealing against the dismissal of their challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code.
Graphic designers Gary Lim Meng Suang, 44, and his partner, Mr Kenneth Chee Mun Leon, 37, had wanted QC Lord Goldsmith Peter Henry to represent them — together with Senior Counsel Deborah Evaline Barker — for their case, which will be heard by the Court of Appeal in three weeks’ time.
Their challenge to Section 377A — on the basis that the law criminalising sex between men breaches the Constitution — was thrown out by High Court Judge Quentin Loh in April, who ruled that its objective of criminalising a conduct that “was not acceptable in society” was “clear”.
In applying for Lord Goldsmith to represent them in their appeal, Mr Lim and Mr Chee had argued that the QC, who was a former Attorney-General of the United Kingdom and a member of the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on human rights, had extensive experience in constitutional, public, and human rights cases.
The outcome of the appeal will have a bearing on an earlier challenge to Section 377A by Mr Tan Eng Hong, 49, which was also heard by Justice Loh. The court had reserved judgment in his case, but Mr Tan’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi, had said the ruling is expected next month.
Dismissing the couple’s application, Judge of Appeal V K Rajah ruled that the application did not meet the requirement for admitting foreign senior counsel on an ad hoc basis under the Legal Profession Act, where there must be a “special reason” to do so.
While there is no definitive parameter on the requirement, he said “there must be something specific to the nature of the facts or legal issues concerned beyond the expected features of ordinary constitutional cases”. In this case, there was nothing “out of the ordinary which would constitute a special reason” to justify Lord Goldsmith’s admission.
He also noted that foreign senior counsel can participate in the preparation of both written submissions and further submissions, as well as the oral case, by anticipating and preparing questions. “In the Singapore context, written advocacy has a more prominent part to play in the appellate process than in other common law jurisdictions … The written medium functions as the focal means by which counsel informs and persuades the court on the merits of their submissions”, while oral submissions build upon rather than supplant arguments made, he said.
When contacted, the couple’s lawyer, Mr Shashidran Nathan, said his clients will proceed with Ms Barker as counsel for their appeal.
Said Mr Shashidran: “Obviously, our clients are disappointed, but I am confident that we will be able to deal with all the issues that will be raised at the Court of Appeal.” AMIR HUSSAIN