Responding to the Workers’ Party chief, Mr Shanmugam pointed to an incident in which the Attorney-General had applied to intervene in a case where a private company had applied to have Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) documents disclosed to it.
“Whether it should be allowed or it should not be allowed is a matter for the court. Whether such a principle should apply to all public departments in the context of a private civil dispute, albeit against IRAS, is a matter of public interest,” said Mr Shanmugam.
“And the Attorney-General should be entitled to put forward his position, why it is or it is not in the public interest to make a particular order, and then it’s for the courts to decide.”
However, the company resisted the application by the Attorney-General to intervene in proceedings, and this dispute was only resolved by the Court of Appeal about 20 months later, he said.
Parties to a civil litigation often seek to “interpret the rules in their own favour”, said Mr Shanmugam.
“If they succeed, sometimes, it is a man in the street who will pay the bill ultimately, if it’s against public interest,” he said.
The Attorney-General’s intervention in such cases aims to “protect the man in the street”, he added.
MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (PAP-Chua Chu Kang) asked if the court could instead allow for the Attorney-General to make his submissions as an independent counsel.
Mr Shanmugam’s response was that while the role of an independent counsel is to address the court on specific issues of law, whereas the Attorney-General’s submissions on issues of public interest may go beyond specific issues of law.
Unlike an independent counsel, the Attorney-General is also considered a party to proceedings and will be able to make applications, file affidavits and have the right to appeal, he added.
NMP Shahira Abdullah asked who should bear the costs in cases where the parties choose not to appeal the court’s decision but the Attorney-General decides to do so.
This will be decided by the courts, Mr Shanmugam replied.