Man in gay-sex law challenge applies to join separate appeal

All parties get chance to be heard, matter can be settled quickly, he says

A man awaiting judgment on his challenge to the law criminalising sex between men has taken a legal step to join the hearing on a separate case involving the same law.

Mr Tan Eng Hong, 49, yesterday applied to the Court of Appeal to join its hearing of a gay couple's suit against Section 377A of Singapore's Penal Code, as an intervening party.

That is because the outcome of the appeal by Mr Gary Lim and Mr Kenneth Chee will affect his own case, said Mr Tan's lawyer M. Ravi yesterday.

If the apex court grants leave for Mr Tan to intervene, it will pave the way for his lawyer to present arguments on the case at the appeal hearing, said Mr Ravi.

"It is not to contradict the appeal. It is to complement it," he added. The intervention would also help prevent the same questions of law being tried on a separate occasion "with potentially different results", Mr Tan had said in his application.

The men in both cases are arguing that Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men, is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Mr Tan, a massage therapist, was the first to file a constitutional challenge in 2010, after he was arrested and charged under Section 377A that year.

His case was dismissed but he took it to the Court of Appeal, which decided last August that he could mount his challenge.

Last December, Mr Lim and Mr Chee filed their challenge against the provision. The couple's case was heard in February this year and Justice Quentin Loh reserved judgment. A month later, he also reserved judgment at the hearing of Mr Tan's case.

In April, Justice Loh dismissed the couple's challenge, saying Section 377A did not violate the Constitution and whether or not it should be repealed is for Parliament to decide. He has not ruled on Mr Tan's challenge so far.

Mr Lim and Mr Chee have taken their case to the Court of Appeal, hiring Senior Counsel Deborah Barker and applying for Queen's Counsel, Lord Peter Goldsmith, to appear on their behalf.

Yesterday, Mr Tan said he was concerned that as a judgment had been issued in the couple's case but not for his, "my right to a fair hearing and due process may be unduly compromised".

He also pointed out in his application that Mr Ravi had asked the court in March to issue its judgment for both cases at the same time so any appeals could be heard together.

Mr Tan added that by letting him intervene in the couple's hearing, it would ensure all interested parties in the constitutional challenge get the chance to be heard and that the subject matter could be disposed of without delay.

Yesterday, the Attorney-General's Chambers said it has received Mr Tan's application papers and is studying them.

andreao@sph.com.sg