Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s grandson, Li Shengwu, is challenging an order the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had obtained in August that allowed it to personally serve court papers on Shengwu despite the fact that he resides out of jurisdiction, in the US.
Individuals or groups initiating legal proceedings are expected to personally serve papers to the opposing individual or group who is involved in the lawsuit. This required practice of officially handing over documents lets the individuals involved in the case know what the court is being asked to do. Such documents must be served personally and in a manner that is strictly prescribed.
Shengwu’s lawyer, Abraham Vergis from Providence Law Asia informed the High Court at a pre-trial conference held yesterday that his client plans to contest the order that allowed the AGC to “personally serve the committal papers on Shengwu in the US.”
Noting that the court documents were in excess of a whopping 1,300 pages, Shengwu’s legal counsel explained that they needed more time to address the “novel grounds” that the AGC has depended on to justify serving the papers out of jurisdiction.
Social commentators have opined that the AGC’s act of serving papers on Shengwu while he is in the US may contravene the Hague Convention on Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents, of which the US is a signatory.
This may explain why the AGC needed to resort to “novel grounds” and a 1,300 page document to justify their actions.
The High Court has directed Shengwu’s lawyer to file the legal challenge by 22 December. The next pre-trial conference has been fixed for 4 Jan 2018.
The case so far
Shengwu attracted the attention of the AGC on 15 July after posting a private “friends-only” Facebook post, criticising Singapore’s government and judiciary.
Linking a Wall Street Journal article that offered a thorough analysis of the public Oxley Rd feud, Shengwu had said in his own words: “Keep in mind, of course that the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system. This constrains what the international media can usually report.”
He then linked a New York Times article on censorship and the use of defamation laws by both Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong to censor the foreign press.
Shengwu’s post followed the explosive Oxley Road dispute, in which his father Lee Hsien Yang and paternal aunt Dr Lee Wei Ling had been embroiled in a public feud against their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The PM’s younger siblings alleged that the PM was abusing his power to preserve their family home against their father’s willed desire to demolish the house, in June and July this year.
They also accused the PM of convened a secret committee to make a decision on the house and claimed that state organs were being used against them.
PM Lee addressed the allegations against him in a Parliamentary debate where he declared that he has been cleared of all charges. He added that he does not intend to sue his siblings.
Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang reinforced their allegations, following this, but offered a ceasefire on releasing further evidence in favor of settling the matter in private, on the condition that they nor their father’s will be attacked or misrepresented.
Dr Lee Wei Ling has come out in support of her nephew when Shengwu’s post caught the eye of the AGC. Sharing his post on her Facebook page, she wondered whether government staff are used to monitor her family’s private musings and suggested that this case could be an example of how Singapore may be governed by a “big brother” system:
I am surprised that AGC takes such negative reaction to a private post. Is there a government servant whose duty is to follow the Facebook activity of all people related to Hsien Yang and I, including our private musings. Also, what Shengwu posted is a common topic amongst Singaporeans who are well informed. Is this not an example of ” big Brother government”. Perhaps it is a case of “if the hat fits, take it.”
Shortly thereafter, the AGC filed an application in the High Court for leave to commence committal proceedings against Shengwu for “contempt of court in connection with the publication of a Facebook post.”
32-year-old Shengwu – who is a junior fellow at Harvard University in the USA and is expected to become a associate professor at the University next year – has asserted that he has no intention to disrupt his “happy” and “fulfilling” life in the US by returning to Singapore to face the legal proceedings initiated by the AGC.