Judge-shopper jailed seven days for contempt

Ong Wui Teck was found guilty in February of "scandalising contempt and contempt in the face of the court" in the first such reported case of judge-shopping.
Ong Wui Teck was found guilty in February of "scandalising contempt and contempt in the face of the court" in the first such reported case of judge-shopping.LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

He had made scandalous allegations in bid to have judge recused from hearing his case

The High Court has jailed a judge-shopper for seven days for making scandalous allegations against a judge in a bid to get the court official recused from hearing his case.

Ong Wui Teck, 64, was found guilty in February of "scandalising contempt and contempt in the face of the court" in the first such reported case of judge-shopping.

He had made various allegations against Justice Woo Bih Li and the Supreme Court in two affidavits he filed in 2016 to support his attempt to have Justice Woo recused from hearing all actions related to his mother's estate.

In judgment grounds on Monday, Justice Belinda Ang made it clear that a fine was inappropriate, given the seriousness of the case.

"A litigant who is bent on judge-shopping would be willing to pay a fine if the desired end is achieved and a different single-judge coram is formed," she said.

Justice Ang had said in finding Ong guilty earlier this year that his allegations were baseless and "his wilful insults clearly went beyond the legal scales for recusal applications, traversing into the law of contempt and breaching the same".

A recusal application refers to an attempt to have a judge or prosecutor withdrawn.

The court heard that when Ong made the call for Justice Woo to recuse himself, the judge decided to do so because he intended to complain about Ong's conduct to the appropriate authorities.

Ong refused to withdraw his allegations and apologise when subsequently notified by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) that his allegations were in contempt.

In convicting Ong earlier this year, Justice Ang held that his allegations against Justice Woo were not made in good faith, and posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice.

The hearing on sentencing followed on May 28, when the AGC submitted to the court that there "are no specific local decisions where contempt is committed for the purpose of judge-shopping".

The AGC cited cases from Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

Ong represented himself.

 

Justice Ang said Ong refused to back down and remained adamant that he had done nothing wrong and that he was justified in what he did. "Seven days is a notice and a warning to would-be litigants who deliberately take out a recusal application calculated to judge-shop," said Justice Ang, citing Justice Lai Siu Chiu in a 2006 case.

Ong, who informed the court registry last month that he would not file his submissions or attend the hearing on sentencing as he was appealing against the conviction, was ordered to pay $29,625 in costs and disbursements. His sentence was stayed pending his appeal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2019, with the headline 'Judge-shopper jailed seven days for contempt'. Print Edition | Subscribe