AHTC Wants To Add Claims To Case Already Decided, WP Defendants Ask Why They Didn’t Do So Earlier

The recent 2020 General Election is over, and the Workers’ Party (WP) won Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) resoundingly with 59.93% of the vote.

However, all isn’t well in Aljunied just yet, as 2 of its returning MPs are still embroiled in the long-running Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) lawsuits.

It’s not over even though 3 WP leaders were found liable of breaches by the High Court last year. Despite the case already being decided, lawyers for AHTC want to add claims against some of the defendants.

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3 WP MPs found liable for breaches

In the ruling on 11 Oct last year, then Aljunied GRC MPs and town councillors Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh were found liable for letting improper payments slide, resulting in damages suffered by AHTC.

2 other town councillors, Mr Chua Zhi Hon and Mr Kenneth Foo Seck Guan, were also found liable.

AHTC, through an independent panel, sought claims of $33.7 million with costs due to these improper payments.

If the MPs can’t pay up, they may be made bankrupt and forced to relinquish their parliamentary seats.

AHTC lawyers apply to make changes to claims

Apparently, AHTC lawyers from Shook Lin & Bok have applied to make changes to its statement of claims with regards to the case.

They filed the application with the High Court on 18 May.

The original statement had claimed that only Mr Low and Ms Lim breached their duties of skill and care to AHTC.

Now, among other changes, AHTC wants to make these claims against Mr Pritam, Mr Chua and Mr Foo also.

This is although the AHTC case was already decided by the High Court last year, and it’s appeal is set for ruling before the Court of Appeal this month.

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The lawyers pointed out that the claims that they want to add are similar to those made by Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) in a parallel lawsuit brought against the same defendants.

It’s a rare move

This is a rare move, said a lawyer interviewed by The New Paper.

Mr Peter Doraisamy said lawyers more commonly seek to amend claims before the hearing or during the trial, but trying to amend claims after the judgement has passed is more uncommon.

However, other lawyers say that court rules do permit plaintiffs to apply to amend claims at any stage of the trial, even after judgement and before the appeal stage.

Justice Ramesh, who made the initial ruling, heard the application in chambers on Monday (3 Aug).

5 WP defendants object to amendment

In response, the 5 WP defendants have raised their objections to the proposed amendments.

The reasons why were laid out in their written submissions that was posted on the WP blog on Monday (3 Aug).

Here are some of their arguments.

1. AHTC didn’t seek to add to claims earlier

AHTC had a lot of time to make changes to its statement of claims throughout the trial, the WP defendants say.

  • It could have done so between the time the independent panel representing AHTC was appointed in Feb 2017 and the suit started in July 2017, as it was already being advised by lawyers Shook Lin & Bok.
  • It could have done so when PRPTC made its parallel suit against the defendants in Aug 2017, and the 2 suits were ordered to be heard together in Nov 2017.
  • It could have done so during the discovery period from Nov 2017 to Feb 2018.
  • It could have done so when the defendants amended their pleadings from Aug 2018 to Oct 2018.
  • It could have done so during the 17-day trial in Oct 2018, or the time between then and the hearing for oral closing submissions in Apr 2019.
  • It could have done so between 11 Oct 2019, when the judgement was released, and 18 May 2020, when it finally applied to make the changes.

2. AHTC didn’t file appeal

The defendants also pointed out that AHTC didn’t file an appeal against the original judgement made on 11 Oct 2019.

That means, it surmised, that AHTC isn’t dissatisfied with the decision.

It also means that AHTC isn’t trying to amend the claims so that the decision is changed in any way.

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3. AHTC trying for “2nd bite of the cherry”

The defendants described AHTC’s latest action as trying for a “2nd bite of the cherry”.

That means, they said, that AHTC is trying to benefit from the findings of the judgement of PRPTC’s lawsuit.

They pointed out that on 9 Mar, AHTC also wanted to include orders in the judgement relating to claims that it didn’t plead.

In response, Justic Ramesh had told AHTC,

You cannot just piggyback on PRPTC’s claims.

The defendants said allowing AHTC to amend its claims undermine the rule that parties are bound by their pleadings, and is “clearly an abuse of process”.

4. AHTC’s new claims will prejudice defendants

If AHTC had applied to amend their claims before or during the trial, the defendants would have defended themselves in a different manner, they said.

Additional evidence would have been presented, especially by Mr Pritam, Mr Chua and Mr Foo, and other town councillors would have been called to testify.

Also, since the trial is over, the defendants would not be able to defend themselves over these new claims.

Liable for more money

If the new claims are allowed, Mr Low and Ms Lim may have to pay an additional $583,641, they said.

As for Mr Singh, Mr Chua and Mr Foo, they may have to pay 12 times more, as the amount claimed would be increased by $33.7 million, from $2.79 million.

That’s because PRPTC’s claims weren’t as high as AHTC’s.

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Unusual move complicates already complex case

The application to add claims to an already-concluded case is unusual indeed.

Will it throw the entire case into more disarray, considering that it’s already complex enough?

What complicates matter further is that Punggol East, which used to be under WP and went back to PRPTC after GE2015, is now under the new Sengkang Town Council?

What do you think of the application by AHTC to add claims to a case that’s already been ruled on? Do tell in the comments below.

Featured images adapted from Facebook and Facebook.