Singapore court refuses video-link testimony from overseas

Justice See Kee Oon said this is the first time a Singapore court has been called to decide on the question of whether a witness can be allowed to testify via video link because he is unwilling to turn up for fear of prosecution.
Justice See Kee Oon said this is the first time a Singapore court has been called to decide on the question of whether a witness can be allowed to testify via video link because he is unwilling to turn up for fear of prosecution.PHOTO: ST FILE

Witness in Australia fears prosecution if he returns to testify in suit over property deal

The High Court, in a test case, refused to allow a witness to testify via video link from Australia, saying it was not a matter of Mr Tejinder Singh Sekhon being "unable" to come to Singapore, but "merely unwilling".

Mr Tejinder, an Australian, is prepared to testify as a witness for Singaporean Anil Singh Gurm in a lawsuit over alleged negligence in relation to the legality of buying a semi-detached house in Serangoon Gardens.

But he fears if he returns to Singapore, he may face prosecution like Anil, who is facing a criminal charge over the same property purchase.

In judgment grounds last week, Justice See Kee Oon said it would be against "public policy to permit the witness to avoid prosecution in Singapore but give evidence that would essentially exculpate himself of any potential charges through video-link evidence, all while he remains beyond the reach of the law".

The judge made clear Mr Tejinder has not been charged with a crime, but added that "he (Tejinder) certainly thinks there is a real risk of being so charged".

As a foreigner, Mr Tejinder could not buy the house in his own name, so he had Anil do it. But he paid all the outlays. Mr Tejinder lived there from 2007 to 2011 before selling the house and returning to Australia. An online check shows the house is now worth about $5 million.

In January 2015, Anil was charged with buying a property as a nominee for a foreigner with the intention to hold it in trust for the foreigner. This is prohibited unless approval is obtained.

Anil then sued the law firm and a lawyer in the firm, which had advised him on the property purchase. He now wants Mr Tejinder as his witness for the civil suit.

Anil, represented by Senior Counsel Deborah Barker and lawyer Ushan Premaratne, had argued that a well-founded fear of prosecution has been accepted by foreign courts as grounds to allow evidence via video link.

The defendants' lawyers Chandra Mohan and Ang Tze Phern countered that Mr Tejinder's evidence was not material to the civil matter, among other things.

In his decision, Justice See said this is the first time a Singapore court has been called to decide on the question of whether a witness can be allowed to testify via video link because he is unwilling to turn up for fear of prosecution.

The judge allowed leave to Anil to appeal the matter as it would be to "public advantage" for the top court to address the important issue raised.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2018, with the headline 'Court refuses video-link testimony from overseas'. Print Edition | Subscribe