SRC did not give member a fair disciplinary hearing, court rules

Judge quashes member's suspension over AGM row, suggests social club amend rules

A High Court judge has suggested that the Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) amend a rule in its constitution on general meetings, in a case sparked by a row between a member and the club's current president, who did not see eye to eye on procedure.

SRC member Terence Shepherdson had taken the club to court to fight a one-year suspension and $1,000 fine for heckling and shouting at the club's vice-president, Dr Sarbjit Singh, at the 2016 annual general meeting (AGM).

In a written judgment last month, Justice Woo Bih Li ruled in favour of Mr Shepherdson, saying that the disciplinary proceedings had been tainted with bias.

Justice Woo quashed the suspension and fine and ordered SRC, one of Singapore's oldest social clubs, to pay damages to Mr Shepherdson, which will be assessed separately.

The case, described by the judge as a "sad episode", arose out of the club's AGM held at Raffles City Convention Centre on April 16, 2016.

After a quorum was reached, Dr Singh began to address the members.

However, he was interrupted by Mr Shepherdson, who questioned whether the procedure according to club rules was being followed. He contended that members should be allowed to vote immediately after a quorum had been reached.

Dr Singh disagreed and told Mr Shepherdson to sit down.

His view was that the voting could begin after he had concluded his speech, the contents of which were not disclosed.

The disagreement escalated into an altercation between the two men, with other members getting involved. It ended with Mr Shepherdson eventually leaving. Dr Singh continued his speech.

Three club members later lodged complaints about Mr Shepherdson's conduct.

Following a disciplinary committee inquiry on Nov 2, 2016, he was found guilty of "disorderly and boisterous behaviour" and heckling Dr Singh. Mr Shepherdson appealed to the management committee (MC).

At a meeting to consider the appeal, Dr Singh recused himself as he was a witness at the inquiry. He told three others to do likewise. One had made a complaint against Mr Shepherdson; the other two were in Mr Shepherdson's team that had stood for election at the AGM.

The remaining seven members eventually dismissed the appeal.

Mr Shepherdson then took the case to court.

The judge rejected most of his points but accepted that he had not been given a fair hearing by the MC.

Mr Shepherdson had argued that if his teammates had had to recuse themselves, the same should have applied to the seven, who were part of Dr Singh's team in the election.

SRC's counter was that Dr Singh was only a witness and not the complainant.

This cut no ice with Justice Woo, who said Dr Singh was clearly not a neutral witness as he was the very person involved in the altercation.

Justice Woo said the inconsistent positions taken for the two sets of teammates constituted apparent bias, if not actual bias.

The judge said another argument made by SRC - that even if the two had not recused themselves, the seven would have outvoted them - was "telling" and "suggests bias".

Turning to the contrary interpretations of the rule on general meetings, Justice Woo said it was open for SRC to clarify the issue by amending the rule.

As the rule stands, he said he was inclined towards the view that voting must be opened immediately after a quorum was reached. However, any incorrect decision by the chairman does not justify rude conduct, he noted.

The Straits Times has reached out to SRC for comment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2018, with the headline 'SRC did not give member a fair disciplinary hearing, court rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe