Man's latest bid for legal action against police dismissed

The High Court has dismissed the latest in a series of applications by a man who claimed that police officers abused their powers when they arrested him.

Mr Mah Kiat Seng had previously attempted and failed to commence legal action against two officers - Staff Sergeant Mohamed Rosli Mohamed and Staff Sergeant Lawrence Tan - involved in his arrest and detention.

On July 7, 2017, Staff Sgt Rosli arrested Mr Mah under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act, which allows officers to apprehend anyone who is reported to have mental health problems and is believed to be dangerous.

This meant that Mr Mah was required to obtain leave - or permission - from a court to begin any civil or criminal proceedings against the police.

Earlier, Staff Sgt Rosli had responded to a call from a woman who complained that a man had touched her son's head and pulled his hair. After identifying Mr Mah from a photograph provided by the woman, Staff Sgt Rosli asked him some questions.

From the man's incoherent answers, Staff Sgt Rosli assessed that Mr Mah had a mental disorder and was a danger to children in the area. He arrested Mr Mah with the help of two other officers.

Mr Mah was examined at the Institute of Mental Health and discharged the following day.

His first application to begin legal proceedings against the police, which had been filed in August 2017 without the court's permission to do so, was struck out by the Attorney-General.

In November 2017, Mr Mah was ordered to pay $5,000 in costs to the Attorney-General. He then filed an appeal against the decision to dismiss his original application and the costs ordered against him, but failed to serve the notice of appeal on the Attorney-General.

On March 20 last year, a district judge held that Mr Mah had to demonstrate that a time extension to serve the notice should be granted but declined to grant such an extension.

The judge cited the fact that Mr Mah had still not obtained leave from any court to begin legal proceedings against the police as a key reason why his appeal was "doomed to fail". Mr Mah was ordered to pay a further $2,500 in costs.

In July, Mr Mah filed another application seeking a time extension to file an appeal against the previous costs totalling $7,500 ordered against him.

This, too, was rejected as another district judge held that there had been a "significant" delay in making the application - the deadline was March 27 - and that the appeal had an "extremely low" chance of success. The judge ordered Mr Mah to pay another $1,000 in costs.

In his latest application, filed on Aug 31 last year, Mr Mah sought leave from the High Court to begin proceedings against the police over his arrest.

He also sought to appeal against the various costs orders previously made against him on the grounds that they were excessive and requested a further time extension to do so.

In her decision grounds yesterday, Judge Valerie Thean dismissed all of Mr Mah's requests, stating that the costs imposed were "reasonable" and fell below the recommended range of $6,000 to $20,000. She also said that leave to commence proceedings against enforcers of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act, including police officers, would be granted only if there is "reasonable suspicion of bad faith or lack of reasonable care".

As this was not found to be the case with either Staff Sgt Rosli or Staff Sgt Tan, Judge Thean dismissed Mr Mah's application.

Mr Mah had alleged that Staff Sgt Tan had pulled on his handcuffs repeatedly while he was being held at the Police Cantonment Complex, resulting in bruises and cuts.

But a medical report by a doctor who examined Mr Mah at the complex showed that he had no obvious injuries and did not declare any.

In a separate case in 2013, the High Court barred Mr Mah from filing further applications on his conviction of two previous charges.

He had launched four appeals over a three-year period in an attempt to overturn fines of $500 on each charge.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2019, with the headline 'Man's latest bid for legal action against police dismissed'. Print Edition | Subscribe