Contempt of court case: Li Shengwu gets permission to appeal

Lawyers Abraham Vergis and Asiyah Arif, who are acting for Mr Li Shengwu (above). One of the key issues that will be argued before the Court of Appeal is whether a procedural rule - which specifically allows court papers for contempt to be served out
Lawyers Abraham Vergis (left) and Asiyah Arif, who are acting for Mr Li Shengwu. One of the key issues that will be argued before the Court of Appeal is whether a procedural rule - which specifically allows court papers for contempt to be served outside Singapore - can be applied retroactively.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Lawyers Abraham Vergis and Asiyah Arif, who are acting for Mr Li Shengwu (above). One of the key issues that will be argued before the Court of Appeal is whether a procedural rule - which specifically allows court papers for contempt to be served out
Lawyers Abraham Vergis and Asiyah Arif, who are acting for Mr Li Shengwu (above). One of the key issues that will be argued before the Court of Appeal is whether a procedural rule - which specifically allows court papers for contempt to be served outside Singapore - can be applied retroactively.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

The nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Li Shengwu, received the green light yesterday 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 - which 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 last 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 Lee Hsien Yang, his aunt Lee Wei Ling and the Prime Minister, over the fate of the Oxley Road home of their late father Lee Kuan Yew, who is Singapore's founding prime minister.

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

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, and subsequently, he applied to set aside the High Court order. His application was dismissed by a High Court judge, who also rejected his request for leave to appeal.

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

The A-G was represented by Senior State Counsel Francis Ng.

Yesterday, 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 a three-judge apex court.

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

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong also set out two issues they want the 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", whether the rule on service of papers for contempt of court applies retroactively, or whether there are any other rules that could apply to confer jurisdiction.

No date has been fixed for the appeal hearing.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2018, with the headline 'Contempt of court case: Li Shengwu gets permission to appeal'. Print Edition | Subscribe