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Misleading reports by Straits Times and Today

By Andrew Loh

On 12 May 2012, the Straits Times print edition and Today (online) both reported on the court application by Ms Vellama Marie Muthu with regards to the Hougang by-election.

Ms Vellama, a Hougang resident, had sought the court to declare that the Prime Minister does not have “unfettered discretion” in deciding whether and when he would call a by-election. She also sought the court to order the PM to hold a by-election in Hougang within 3 months or any “reasonable time” the court sees fit.

In April, High Court judge, Philip Pillai, dismissed the Attorney General’s objections and ordered the case to be heard in open court. The Attorney General then appealed against his decision at the Court of Appeal (CA). Ms Vellama, represented by lawyer M Ravi, subsequently appealed against the AG’s appeal, arguing that the AG had not followed the proper court procedures in filing his appeal.

Justice Andrew Phang ordered both appeals to be heard on 16 May which, incidentally, is also Nomination Day for the Hougang by-election.

In its latest report on the case, the Straits Times said:

[Front page]: “The quick turn of events prompted Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu to withdraw her bid to get the courts to order the Prime Minister to hold a by-election within three months. Yesterday, her lawyer M Ravi wrote to the Attorney General’s Chambers [AGC] to withdraw the application, citing ‘dramatic developments in the last 48 hours’.”

[Page A12, Headline]: “Bid for open court hearing withdrawn”

[Extract of report]: “A Hougang resident is withdrawing her bid to get the courts to order the Prime Minister to hold a by-election within three months, citing ‘dramatic developments of the last 48 hours.’”

In the Today report, it said:

[Headline]: “Hougang resident withdraws application on by-election”

[Extract of report]: “Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu has decided to withdraw her application asking the courts to order a by-election in the constituency, saying that her “factual objective” has been achieved, and she was prepared to forgo her ‘legal objective’.”

The 2 reports, however, have left out the conditions upon which Ms Vellama will consider withdrawing her application, which Mr Ravi’s letter to the AGC had stated.

The reports did not mention that Ms Vellama’s offer to withdraw her application is contingent upon two agreements from the AGC, namely:

  1. That the AGC withdrew its appeal against Judge Pillai’s decision for the case to be heard.
  2. That the AGC would not seek costs against her.

The letter said if the AGC agreed to the 2 conditions, only then is Ms Vellama “prepared” to withdraw her application.

She made the offer to withdraw because “the factual objective of her litigation has now been achieved” with the Prime Minister having called a by-election in Hougang where Ms Vellama is a resident.

Mr Ravi’s letter concluded:

“Our client has instructed us to obtain your client’s agreement to the terms of a consent order whereby, with no order as to costs, and upon the withdrawal of her Judicial Review application… and striking out application… and your client’s withdrawal of Civil Appeal…, the approval of the Court may be obtained for the matter to be recorded as resolved by consent.”

When contacted by publichouse.sg, Mr Ravi said his client “has not withdrawn” her application and reiterated that she would consider doing so only if the AGC agreed to the two conditions mentioned in his letter to the AGC.

If the AGC decides to proceed with its appeal, Ms Vellama is prepared to fight the appeal, Mr Ravi said.

Mr Ravi said he is, at present, still preparing for the hearing on 16 May.