Church clears a hurdle to review minister's order

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 10, 2014

A church that was ordered by the Government to compensate a pregnant employee it had sacked for adultery has removed a roadblock to getting that order overturned.

The Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) yesterday succeeded in striking out an appeal filed by the Attorney-General, who opposes its challenge to the Manpower Minister's order.

In allowing the church this, the Court of Appeal said the right of appeal of the Attorney-General was not automatic but required permission from the court.

The High Court is scheduled to hear the Attorney-General's application for permission to appeal next week.

Only if it is granted can the Attorney-General continue with the appeal. If not, the mega-church's request for a judicial review of the order will proceed.

The case concerns an administrative worker at the church who was fired in 2012 on grounds of adultery.

The woman, who was pregnant at the time, complained to the Manpower Ministry about being sacked without notice or compensation.

In July last year, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, then the Acting Manpower Minister, decided she had been dismissed without sufficient cause and ordered the church to pay her salary and maternity benefits of about $7,000.

The FCBC then applied to the High Court for permission to start proceedings for a judicial review challenging Mr Tan's decision. This was granted on May 29 this year.

The next day, the Attorney- General's Chambers (AGC) applied for permission to appeal against the High Court's decision. But it argued at the same time that the Attorney-General actually had the automatic right to appeal. The High Court adjourned the hearing, saying the question of whether permission was required had to be determined by the apex court.

The AGC went ahead and filed its appeal on June 11.

This was followed a week later by the FCBC's application to strike out the appeal on the grounds that permission had not been given.

Yesterday, it got the decision it wanted when the Court of Appeal said the Attorney-General, as the guardian of the public interest, had the right to disagree with a High Court decision to grant a judicial review - but only with the permission of the court.

State Counsel Aurill Kam had contended that the decision to grant judicial review was "appealable as of right". But FCBC lawyer Dominic Chan argued that an automatic appeal would mean two rounds of prolonged arguments before getting to the actual hearing.

selinal@sph.com.sg