Li Shengwu will have his appeal against a court order that allowed the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to serve him court papers outside Singapore heard, following a ruling by a three-judge panel on Monday (3 September).
The nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had applied to set aside the order in relation to a contempt of court case, but it was dismissed by the High Court earlier this year. He then filed another application in June against the High Court’s decision.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, along with Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong, on Monday gave the leave for Li to appeal in respect of “the basis for the court to exercise jurisdiction over someone outside of Singapore at the time of the commencement of the proceedings”.
The panel stressed that the appeal should also be expedited for the clarification of the law on contempt of court as well as for the defendant.
Prior to the panel’s comment on the clarification of the law, Li’s lawyers, Abraham Vergis and Asiyah Arif from Providence Law Asia, highlighted that contempt of court in Singapore is based on “common law” – unlike criminal laws that are statute-based – and is an anomaly in the country’s criminal justice system.
Li, a 33-year-old assistant professor of economics at Harvard University, was served court papers for contempt of court on 17 October 2017 in the United States.
The case stems from a private Facebook post made by Li on 15 July 2017, which allegedly attacked Singapore’s judiciary. Linking to a Wall Street Journal article about the much reported Lee family feud, Li had said that “the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system”.
In response, the AGC issued a letter to Li, highlighting that “the highly inflammatory nature of these assertions…directly contradict Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s values and the judicial system” as well as requesting for him to “purge the contempt” and “issue and post prominently a written apology”.
Li later explained that his post was intended as a criticism of the Singapore government’s effect on press freedom and that the “AGC chose to escalate the dispute”. However, he did not take down the private post, choosing instead to amend it to “remove any misunderstanding“.
With Li’s failure to comply with its requests, the AGC in August 2017 applied for – and was subsequently granted – permission in the High Court to commence proceedings against Li for contempt of court.
Hours before the Court of Appeal’s decision on Monday, the prime minister’s estranged younger brother and Li’s father Lee Hsien Yang questioned the AGC’s position in the case. His son’s lawyers have argued that the AGC did not satisfy the requirements for proper service of documents outside of Singapore, he wrote on his Facebook page.
Hsien Yang also highlighted that “much stronger criticism of Singapore courts has recently been published in some international media and widely shared public posts”, without specifying any examples.
“AGC appears not to have commenced committal proceedings against the media and others, whilst nonetheless continuing this action against Shengwu for his private communications,” he added.
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