SINGAPORE – The High Court on Tuesday (Nov 30) ordered lawyer M. Ravi to personally pay $10,000 in costs for a civil case he brought on behalf of 13 inmates, but which he withdrew on the first day of hearing.
The application, to start judicial review proceedings against the Attorney-General, was filed in the names of the 13 prisoners who had copies of their personal letters forwarded by prison officials to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).
In a written judgment, Justice Ang Cheng Hock said the application was wholly unmeritorious and “entirely devoid of legal foundation”.
The judge said the Court of Appeal had already made a clear ruling that the AGC had no right to any copies of the personal correspondence of prisoners, unless consent had been given by them or there was a court order authorising such disclosure.
“It was quite pointless for the plaintiffs to have embarked on this application for leave to seek judicial review over the same issue,” said Justice Ang.
The judge added that there was no genuine attempt to seek the remedies available in a judicial review action.
Mr Ravi was given two chances to withdraw the case but spurned the opportunity, the judge noted.
As a result, needless costs were incurred because the Attorney-General’s lawyers from law firm WongPartnership had to prepare for the hearing scheduled on Oct 28.
Justice Ang found that Mr Ravi’s conduct led to an unnecessary waste of costs and time and that it would not be fair for the plaintiffs to bear the costs of the application.
The forwarding of letters came to light in the course of criminal proceedings involving two of the 13 inmates last year.
In August last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that this was “impermissible” under prison regulations.
In July this year, Mr Ravi filed an application to start judicial review proceedings.
He sought a declaration that the Attorney-General and the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) had acted unlawfully – the former by requesting prisoners’ letters and the latter by disclosing them.
He sought the destruction of the forwarded letters and damages for breaches of confidence and copyright.
Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair then filed an affidavit, explaining that the SPS and the AGC have since implemented a policy that copies of a prisoner’s letters will not be forwarded, unless consent or a court order is obtained.
Mr Nair also said that the copies of the letters forwarded will be destroyed.
Mr Ravi replied that he was seeking an injunction to compel the Attorney-General to destroy the copies.
On Oct 22, the Attorney-General’s lawyers wrote to Mr Ravi, inviting him to withdraw the “legally and factually unsustainable” application.
The letter stated that the Attorney-General intended to seek a personal cost order against Mr Ravi should the hearing proceed and the application was dismissed.
He did not reply to the lawyers’ second letter dated Oct 26.
Two days later, at the start of the hearing, he told Justice Ang that he wished to withdraw the application.
Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, acting for the Attorney-General, sought personal costs against Mr Ravi. The latter protested and described the move as a “threat” against him.
Justice Ang adjourned the matter for written submissions as to whether a personal costs order should be made against Mr Ravi.