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A reader counters Tan Wah Piow – AGC's words in PTE Lee's case hard to stomach but true




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The following opinion is by our reader, J Siew. It was first expressed in the comments section of the op-ed by Mr Tan Wah Piow, ‘Where’s the law?’.

Throughout the article you have been talking about UK and how Dominque’s case would end up differently there. While I agree with you that it would be a different situation if the case was fought in the UK Supreme Court, you are missing the fact that this case happened in Singapore and therefore, subject to the local legislation.
“The UK Supreme Court judgment is at least a *persuasive* authority in favour of Dominique Lee’s case.”
As you have said it yourself, the Singapore Supreme Court is not bound by the decision of the UK Supreme Court in Smith v MOD – it is a mere persuasive authority. Just because the AG ‘ought to familiar’ with the UK judgment has no bearing on this case.
You have also mentioned Art 9 of the Singapore Constitution – ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law’. And you commented – ‘Why Dominique Lee’s Article 9 right to life was not considered by the Singapore judge is beyond my comprehension’.
Personally, I believe the judge knew that Dominque’s right to life conferred by Art 9 has been breached. It was undisputed that Domique’s death was due to negligence – if the officers had kept to the Training Safety Regulation and had not exceeded the number of smoke capsules used during the training, Dominique would most likely be alive today. However, what remedy can the judge give?
Section 14 of the Government Proceedings Act confers a special protection of the State against liability in negligence for death or personal injury. Even if the judge agrees that Dominque’s right to life has been violated, no remedy can be provided when you bring a claim in the civil court. While the words used by the AGC (‘frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process’) to describe the claim were indeed hard to stomach in the light of the tragedy, it is nonetheless true, as long as we view it objectively.
At the end of the day, we need to distinguish between UK and Singapore. The only reason why the UK Supreme Court might give a favourable decision regarding this case are based on these factors, most of which you have already stated in your article.
1. S10 of British Crown Proceedings Act was repealed in 1987, but S14 of Government Proceedings Act is still good law in Singapore.
2. There are more safeguards and protection in Human Rights in the UK compared to Singapore due to the incorporation of the ECHR in the English law.
The question remained, has Justice been served? As common citizens, we do not have enough materials, evidences, knowledge of the case and the necessary training to act as judges. We do not know the exact amount of compensation the SAF has provided to Dominique’s family, we do not know what exactly happened in the Military Court and we have not heard the defences of the military officers.
What I do know is that nothing more or less could have been expected from the High Court in the light of the law, there is no miscarriage of justice in the High Court as the title (‘Where’s the law”) suggest. The law is here, s14 is ‘The Law’.
If you are unhappy with the law, you should not be challenging the judicial branch. Go straight to the source – they are the lawmakers whom you have voted into Parliament. Dominique’s case is probably not the first, but whether it will be the last in Singapore will depend on the will of its own people and the competency of our political parties. This is the only way Singapore can progress.
At the end of the day, I agree with the Defence Minister that we should not add to the anguish and pain of Dominique’s family and I applaud Mr Ng’s decision to waive the legal cost of the hearing.

Article edited after publication.

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