Man in custody fight lied to get travel documents

He claimed his passport, impounded by British authorities, was lost

A Singaporean whose passport was impounded over a custody battle in Britain was so desperate to return here that he sneaked out of the country to Turkey, where he obtained documents to return home.

The man, 39, skipped London, where his passport was held, tried, but failed to get substitute travel papers at the Singapore consul's office in Dublin, Ireland, and yet somehow managed to get to Istanbul, Turkey.

Details of the man's flight last year emerged last week in the Singapore State Courts after he pleaded guilty to giving false information in an e-mail to the honorary consul-general of Singapore in Dublin.

The acrimonious custody battle over their four-year-old son has seen both the man and his London-based Mongolian ex-wife, 33, spend time in jail. The couple cannot be named for legal reasons.

Their son is living here with the man's parents and is the subject of a British court order to be returned to London.

  • Father can claim compensation for 9 weeks' jail: UK appeals court

  • The Singapore father in the custody battle spent nine weeks in a jail for contempt of court after failing to produce his Singapore-based toddler in a United Kingdom court in 2014.

    This week, a UK appeal court said he can claim compensation after it ruled that errors by the judge who sent him to jail constituted "gross and obvious irregularity".

    The three-judge court's judgment grounds on Monday overturned a High Court decision which had dismissed the man's claim for damages under the UK's Human Rights Act in relation to his jail term.

    He had been sentenced to 18 months' jail by High Court Justice Alison Russell in April 2014 for court contempt after he failed to ensure that his four-year-old son, who is in Singapore with his parents, was returned to England, as directed by the court.

    The man is embroiled in an ongoing bitter tussle with his Mongolian ex-wife over custody of their child.

    But in June 2014, an appeals court quashed the conviction and ordered his immediate release.

    He then sued the British government over the imprisonment but failed in the High Court in 2015, after the judge held that although Justice Russell had made errors in jailing him, the errors were not exceptional enough to justify any compensation.

    The appeals court disagreed and "took the opposite view".

    Lord Justice Rupert Jackson wrote in the decision grounds: "Although I regret the need to make such a finding about any High Court judge, I consider that Russell's errors did amount to gross and obvious irregularity."

    The errors included failing to recuse herself, calling on the man to give evidence instead of warning him he need not give evidence, and relying on his failure to ensure the toddler's return to the UK by March 28, 2014, through court proceedings in Singapore when that was not possible.

    "For a judge to include a veiled instruction which cannot be complied with, and then to commit the respondent to prison for non-compliance is a gross irregularity," said Justice Jackson.

    The errors, when looked at cumulatively, were all linked, even if no individual error in the group was serious enough to constitute "gross and obvious irregularity", he said.

    All five errors enumerated were obvious, he said, noting that such mishaps are "happily" rare events.

    The court allayed any concerns the outcome may have on family judges, noting the work "takes a toll on those judges who have a diet made up largely of care cases".

    K. C. Vijayan

The false-information charge was over the man's application in Dublin in February last year for a document of identity (DOI) to be issued in lieu of the passport, which he claimed had been lost on a bus ride from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Aware that he could not get a new travel document from the Singapore High Commission in London, which was monitoring his legal issues, he went to Dublin last year to apply for a DOI to return so that he could file a final bid to keep the boy in Singapore.

But the Dublin office rejected his request after checks verified that his passport had been impounded.

He departed for Turkey, where, with assistance from  Singapore officials, he got papers for the trip here.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) arrested him last September on his return, but it was not disclosed in court how he had travelled from Britain to Turkey.

ICA's probe showed that he had lived in London since 2010 and had outstanding wardship and alimony matters linked to his ex-wife in a Manchester High Court. This had caused his passport to be impounded by the British authorities.

ICA, in prosecuting the case, sought a five-week jail term to underline the seriousness of his offence under the Passports Act.

His lawyer, Mr Adrian Tan of August Law Corporation, in mitigation, urged the court to impose a minimal sentence, pointing out that the offence was committed under "the pressure of several unique, extenuating circumstances".

Mr Tan pointed out that the accused, a former government scholarship holder and financial analyst with a global firm, had spent 21/2 years in Britain, "alone, jobless and broke, living a threadbare existence".

The lawyer added that his bid to return was the " desperate attempt of a man who wished to return to protect his son and family".

In April 2014, he was sentenced to 18 months' jail by Justice Alison Russell in the British Family Court for failing to return the boy to Britain, a conviction that was quashed on appeal, by which time he had spent more than two months in a British jail.

The acrimonious custody battle over their four-year-old son has seen both the man and his London-based Mongolian ex-wife, 33, spend time in jail.

In August 2014, his ex-wife entered Singapore illegally with two others in a bid to forcibly take away her son from the grandparents, and was jailed 10 weeks for immigration offences.

District Judge Ow Yong Tuck Leong noted the "very unusual circumstances" of the case and called for further sentencing submissions. He adjourned the case for sentencing next month.

The man's appeal to keep his son here in the face of the British court order is pending in the High Court.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Man in custody fight lied to get travel documents'. Print Edition | Subscribe