Hougang resident not backing down from court case

Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu rescinds her offer to withdraw her application from the Court. (Yahoo! photo/Andrew Loh)
Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu rescinds her offer to withdraw her application from the Court. (Yahoo! photo/Andrew Loh)

Vallama Marie Muthu's application to the High Court to order the Prime Minister to call a by-election in Hougang, and to declare that the PM does not have "unfettered discretion" in deciding whether or when to call by-elections, has taken another turn.

In the latest development on Sunday, Vellama's lawyer, M Ravi, informed the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) that Vellama is rescinding her offer to withdraw her application from the Court.

This follows comments made by the AGC to Vellama's offer, made on Friday, 11 May. In that offer to the AGC, M Ravi said his client is prepared to withdraw her application because "the factual objective of her litigation has now been achieved" with the Prime Minister having called a by-election in Hougang.

Her offer to the AGC, however, was made on the conditions that the AGC withdraw its appeal against High Court judge Philip Pillai's decision on 3 April to allow the case to be heard. Also, the AGC should not seek costs against Vellama in the case.

On Saturday, 12 May, The Straits Times reported the AGC as having said, in response to the offer: "These proceedings are ill-conceived to begin with, and if they are continued, Madam Vellama risks being penalised in costs."

It is understood that the AGC had placed a S$20,000 security of costs with the Court. Those who are appealing to the Court of Appeal must place such a security to the respondent (the winning party of first instance which in this case is Vellama. If her application is thrown out by the Court, claims of up to that amount can be sought by the AGC against her.)

On Sunday, 13 May, M Ravi informed the AGC that Vellama was rescinding her offer because of these remarks by the AGC.

In his letter to the AGC on Sunday, M Ravi said his client wishes "to proceed with her application on a matter of principle not only for herself but for the benefit of the basic democratic rights of all Singaporeans so that the constitutional questions raised in our client's application are resolved once and for all."

"It is regretted that the issue of costs is being used to intimidate our client," M Ravi's letter to the AGC said. "Hence our client's offer is hereby withdrawn."

"Our client will not bow down to veiled threats of costs, however poor she might be," M Ravi said in the letter to the AGC. "Please note that if Madam Vellama's application was ill-conceived, Justice Pillai would not have granted the leave sought by our client. Therefore your statement contradicts the ruling by the Honourable Justice Pillai."

In the AGC's response, reported by ST on Monday, 14 May, the AGC was quoted to have said that "Mr Ravi appeared to be under the impression that the Government would seek costs against his client as a condition for agreeing to her desire to withdraw her application."

"This was not the position conveyed in our statement," the AGC said, referring to what the Straits Times reported on 12 May. The AGC added that the "Government does not intend to deal with Mr Ravi through the media."

Meanwhile, the Attorney General has informed M Ravi that it has withdrawn its appeal before the Court of Appeal.

In his letter to the Registrar, the AG said since "there is no substantive controversy that can legitimately be the subject of proceedings before the Court, the Government would be withdrawing its appeal…"

M Ravi, when approached by publichouse.sg, says the case will now go back to Judge Pillai who will decide on the next step. M Ravi is also expected to make the appropriate submissions to the Court then.

Both the cases were to be heard in open court on Wednesday, 16 May, before Chief Justice, Chan Sek Keong, Andrew Phang and VK Rajah. 16 May is also Nomination Day for the Hougang by-election.

In reports on 12 May which may have confused Vellama's position in the minds of the public, both ST and Today appeared to have misconstrued Vellama's offer to the AGC on Friday and reported that she had in fact "withdrawn" her application from the Court.

The problems with these reports were first highlighted by the website publichouse.sg.

In their reports, the two newspapers failed to mention the conditions Vellama had set down for the AGC before she would withdraw her application before the Court. These were:

  1. That the AGC withdrew its appeal against Judge Pillai's decision for the case to be heard.

  2. That the AGC would not seek costs against her.

Andrew helms publichouse.sg as Editor-in-Chief. His writings have been reproduced in other publications, including the Australian Housing Journal in 2010. He was nominated by Yahoo! Singapore as one of Singapore's most influential media persons in 2011.