Apex court: Club wrong in bid to oust couple

Judges say committee had already made up its mind when it met to suspend member and wife

A veteran member of the Singapore Swimming Club and his wife will get to keep their membership after the Court of Appeal ruled the club was wrong to try to oust them.

The apex court comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Senior Judge Chan Sek Keong found the management committee (MC) had already made up its mind, when it met in October 2013, to suspend him for his criminal conviction with a view to ceasing his membership within six months.

The MC wanted Mr Mike Sim, 70, out as it believed his 2012 conviction for insider trading involved moral turpitude and embarrassed the club. For that offence as chief executive of mainboard-listed Sinwa, a marine supply and logistics company, Mr Sim had been fined $153,000. He sought a judicial review of the decision and won the first time around in September 2013 when the High Court ruled the club had tripped up by failing to follow the correct procedure.

His wife was also suspended through their family category membership.

A new MC which had taken over the club then took steps afresh in October 2013 to oust him.

Mr Sim, a club member for almost 40 years, challenged its decision on the grounds of breach of natural justice in the High Court and lost the case in April.

He appealed. A key issue was that the new MC comprised the same six members who had sent letters in July 2013 to support the previous MC's bid to remove him.

Mr Sim's lawyer R.S. Bajwa argued this was wrong.

"The MC had already prejudged the matter even before they took their seats at the MC meeting (to look at his case afresh)," he said in submissions.

WongPartnership lawyer Chang Man Phing countered for the club that the MC's decision was made on the basis of a specific event - Mr Sim's conviction - and not as the result of a disciplinary probe or a fact-finding process.

She said there was also a principle of necessity, as six other MC members had to be dropped because of conflicts of interest.

The court disagreed that the principle applied. It said any member of the public who joins a social club would expect to be treated fairly.

The court said it would issue written grounds later to explain its decision and ordered the club to pay $30,000 in costs to Mr Sim.

Mr Bajwa, when contacted, said: "This is the second time the matter has come to court and I hope there is finality to this and the parties can move on with their lives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2015, with the headline 'Apex court: Club wrong in bid to oust couple'. Print Edition | Subscribe