The lawyers of Mr Li Shengwu, Mr Abraham Vergis and Ms Asiyah Arif of Providence Law, have stated that an order by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to personally serve him papers outside of Singapore for contempt of court cannot be considered valid.
This move comes after Mr Li, nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and filed an application on 22 December last year to challenge the order that the AGC obtained from the High Court, before it launched contempt of court proceedings against him in August last year.
After a pre-trial conference discussing the matter on Thursday (4 January), Mr Li’s lawyers issued a statement on his behalf, saying that the AGC needs to show that the contempt proceedings were brought under a “written law” or were about enforcing a “written law”.
The lawyers noted in a footnote in the statement that the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act came into force on 1 October 2017, months after Mr Li, a junior fellow at Harvard University, who is based in the United States, made the allegedly offending remarks in a private Facebook post.
Under the new Act, those who commit contempt of the High Court or Court of Appeal can be fined up to S$100,000, and/or jailed up to three years. But it was not gazetted as written law at the point where Mr Li has said to committed the offence.
The lawyers said on Thursday, “We say that criminal contempt in Singapore at the time of Shengwu’s Facebook post was not based on ‘written law’ (for example, an Act of Parliament),” adding that they have studied the “novel grounds” the AGC had used to justify its serving of papers outside of Singapore a month ago.
They argued that the AGC had “wrongly relied” on a section of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, “even if the criminal contempt proceedings were brought under a ‘written law’ or about enforcing a ‘written law'”.
They also said that the AGC “incorrectly relied” on a rule of court to serve the court papers on Mr Li outside of Singapore when it does not apply to criminal contempt proceedings.
The first trial was held on 13 December last year. Mr Li was not being charged with a crime. The AGC, instead, took up an originating summons, typically used in civil cases.
The suit is in relation to a private Facebook post that Mr Li made on his Faceboook account, made viewable only by him and his friends. (read here)
Mr Li, who is rumored the favorite grandson of late Lee Kuan Yew, wrote that “the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system” which was referring to the constraints of what the media can report on the matter surrounding the public dispute of his family.
The AGC had earlier demanded Mr Li to apologise, in which he declined as he stressed that his post had been a private one and also contended that the post, when read in context, did not constitute contempt of court.
However, he eventually agreed to amend the post.
According to the AGC, the post was an “egregious and baseless attack” on the judiciary, adding that it applied for and was granted the court’s permission to initiate contempt of court proceedings in August.
On Thursday, the court directed Mr Li to file and serve his submissions in support of his application by 5 pm on 1 February and the AGC is to submit a reply by 5 pm on 1 March.
Mr Li then has until 15 March, 5pm, to make further reply submissions.
The lawyers said that the hearing for the application and another pre-trial conference would be scheduled in due course.