SINGAPORE - The Republic's top marathoner Soh Rui Yong has been ordered to pay costs amounting to $10,000 to former national teammate Ashley Liew after two of his appeals relating to an ongoing defamation suit filed by the latter were dismissed by the High Court. A third appeal, however, was allowed.
One of the two dismissed appeals was against the January dismissal of an application Soh had made for District Judge Lee Li Choon to recuse herself from the case because of alleged bias.
In her written judgment on Friday (April 30), Justice Valerie Thean noted that "this was the most substantive" of the three appeals in respect of costs.
The other dismissed appeal was against Judge Lee's dismissal of Soh's application in September 2020 for the late adduction of additional expert evidence.
The appeal by Soh that was allowed by Justice Thean relates to Judge Lee allowing Liew to amend his statement of claim, which is no longer allowed.
In her written judgment, Justice Thean noted that Soh's application to replace Judge Lee required a finding of apparent bias "in the context of the entirety of proceedings".
"Having considered the list of complaints, I found that no objective bystander would have perceived any apparent bias," she said.
Justice Thean also warned that "serious consequences" may follow if future allegations of judicial bias were found to be "unmeritorious".
"Allegations of excessive judicial interference and judicial bias, while necessary when appropriate, are extremely serious and should only be employed with great circumspection and care," she said.
"Inevitably, they occasion costs to clients, public resources and the justice system as a whole."
Liew’s counsel, Mark Teng of That.Legal, said: “I am pleased to have a motivated team to help Ashley successfully defend against Soh’s application and his subsequent appeal in the General Division of the High Court.
“We look forward to assisting the Court on the actual merits of the case when the trial resumes.”
Soh's counsel, Clarence Lun of Fervent Chambers, said: "We thank the Honourable Court for allowing the appeal to dismiss the 157-page amendment to the statement of claim filed on the eve of the last day of trial, and respect the other parts of the judgment of the Honourable Court. We look forward to advancing our client’s case at trial."
The dispute between the two athletes began in October 2018, when Soh, in a Facebook post, disputed Liew's account of an incident that occurred during the 2015 SEA Games marathon race that Soh had won.
Liew, a chiropractor, said he had slowed down to allow other runners to catch up after they missed a U-turn and took the wrong path. He later received two awards for his act of sportsmanship and praise from Cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his 2015 National Day Rally.
Liew, 33, is accusing Soh of defaming him in five instances via comments made on social media and is seeking damages, to be assessed, of up to a maximum of $250,000. The trial is expected to resume in June.