Jul 5, 2013

The curious case where a cleaner challenged the Prime Minister

Madam Vellama Marie Muthu and M Ravi
This is the final Singapore court decision on a curious case where a cleaner challenged the Prime Minister.

In simple terms, Madam Vellama Marie Muthu, a cleaner, brought a court case on whether the Prime Minister has an unfettered discretion to decide  whether or not, or when, to call a by-election. 

"The Judges of Appeal had made some observations on Article 49 of the Constitution.
These are:

  • that the Prime Minister has to call a by-election to fill casual vacancies of elected MPs within a reasonable time;
  • that the Prime Minister is entitled to take into account all relevant circumstances in deciding what is a reasonable time within which to call a by-election;
  • that the timing for the calling of a by-election can involve considerations that go well beyond mere practicability;
  • that it is impossible to lay down the specific consideration or factors which would have a bearing on the question whether the Prime Minister has acted reasonably in the exercise of his discretion under Article 49 of the Constitution;
  • and that the Prime Minister's exercise of discretion as to the timing of a by-election can only be challenged in exceptional cases."
The AGC said, "The Court of Appeal also recognised that it is only in exceptional cases that the Court may intervene in the exercise of the Prime Minister's discretion under Article 49 of the Constitution. In our system of constitutional government, all executive authority has to be derived from either the Constitution or some legislation. The Executive branch does not have any authority independent of the Constitution or legislation." (From http://news.xin.msn.com)
  The lawyer, M. Ravi, for Madam Vellama Marie Muthu, said,
"This may be the first time the Singapore Courts have acted to interpret the Constitution in a way that has circumscribed the Prime Minister’s executive authority. It is a great day for democracy in Singapore. A year ago, who would have imagined that one Hougang citizen could take on such a challenge, in the interest of all citizens, and that it would result in the highest court affirming that Singaporeans do have a right to representation in Parliament."

Actors in this case
Madam Vellama Marie Muthu (The Hougang resident)
M. Ravi (lawyer for Madam Vellama)
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (whose discretion about by-election is in question)
Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang and V K Rajah
Justice Philip Pillai (High Court Judge)
Attorney-General’s Chambers

This is a curious case because
1. All parties think they had won.
2. It is a case started by a person with probably the lowest pay in Singapore about the person with the highest pay in the civil service/ political appointments.

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