Apex court grants permission for Li Shengwu to appeal against service of contempt papers

The Attorney-General started proceedings against Mr Li Shengwu for contempt on Aug 21 last year, over a Facebook post he put up on July 15, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Mr Li Shengwu, the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, got the green light on Monday (Sept 3) to go ahead with his appeal to quash a court order that allowed the Attorney-General (A-G) to serve papers on him in the United States for contempt of court.

One of the key issues that will be argued before the Court of Appeal is whether a procedural rule - that specifically allows court papers for contempt to be served outside Singapore - can be applied retroactively.

The rule in question took effect on Oct 1 last year, when the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, which codifies the law of contempt in Singapore, was enacted.

The A-G started proceedings against Mr Li for contempt on Aug 21 last year over a Facebook post he put up on July 15 that same year, in which he said "the Singapore Government is very litigious and has a pliant court system".

His post was related to a family dispute involving his father Mr Lee Hsien Yang, his aunt Ms Lee Wei Ling, and the Prime Minister over the fate of the Oxley Road home of their late father Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

On Sept 27 last year, the A-G obtained leave, or permission, from the High Court to serve papers on him in the US to commit him for contempt of court.

The A-G's application was based on two provisions under the Rules of Court, which set out cases in which court papers are permitted to be served out of Singapore.

The papers were personally served on Mr Li on Oct 17, who then applied to set aside the High Court order. Mr Li's application was dismissed by the High Court judge, who also rejected his request for leave to appeal.

Mr Li, who is represented by Mr Abraham Vergis of Providence Law, then went higher to the Court of Appeal, to seek leave to appeal.

On Monday (Sept 3), the issue of whether the court has jurisdiction over a foreign-based defendant, and what the basis is for that jurisdiction, was repeatedly raised by the three-judge apex court.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the court granted Mr Li permission to appeal.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong also set out two issues that they want parties to address at the appeal.

The first is whether there was any statutory basis for the court to exercise substantive jurisdiction over someone who was overseas at the time the contempt proceedings started.

And if the answer is yes, does the rule on service of papers for contempt of court apply retroactively, or are there any other rules that could apply to confer jurisdiction?

No date has been fixed for the appeal hearing.

But CJ Menon indicated that the appeal should be expedited and not "left hanging", as it concerned an important question.

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