"And if you go over the line, if you defame us, we're prepared to sue you, go into the witness box and be cross-examined. You can brief the best lawyers and demolish us. If I'm involved, I go to the witness box. And you can question me, not only on the particular defamatory issue, but all issues in my life."
- Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Time Magazine, Dec 2005
The following exchange was first posted on SDP website here. The transcript is based on the digital audio recordings obtained from the High Court. Again, as a watcher in the public gallery that day, I can attest that they are true.
I will post as much of the available transcripts here for purpose of future reference. Suffice to say it is unlikely that such an encounter will ever take place again in the Singapore courts, or for that matter, in any venue open to public scrutiny.
Meanwhile, US lawyer Gopalan Nair was arrested by the police in his Serangoon Road hotel on Saturday night and will be charged in court today.
Latest : Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin have been sentenced to 12 and 10 days imprisonment respectively for contempt of court. The sentences were meted out by Justice Belinda Ang Saw Ean, who also presided over the defamation hearings. The Chees are expected to file appeals on Wednesday.
And according to this reuters report, Gopalan Nair will be detained for the next 7 days pending further investigations.
For updates of Gopalan Nair's arrest and detention, visit his lawyer's blog.
CSJ: Mr Lee, we get to meet at last.
CSJ: We get to meet at last.
LKY: I thought we've met many other times across election rallies.
CSJ: Your memory fails you. I've never met you before and you know why? Because you keep avoiding me. (Mr Lee laughs) Well, we have this opportunity right now. Let me ask you this question. You gave an interview saying: "If you defame us, and if I'm involved, I go to the the witness box and you can question me not only on the particular defamation issue, but on all issues in my life." Do you stand by your words?
LKY: I do.
CSJ: Good. In the course of the cross-examination, will you then answer questions not just on this particular defamation issue, but on all issues in your life -- and I don't mean your personal life, I mean your political life? Will you stand by that?
LKY: Your Honour, we appeared in court when the issue was whether or not the summary judgment was proper. That was the time to challenge --
CSJ: Mr Lee, that was not my question.
Judge: Allow the witness to answer. Mr Lee, please go on.
LKY: I have to answer. I'm a lawyer. I no longer practice the law. I know your purpose. You dodged that occasion and you're trying -- Dr Chee is trying today when the issue is the question of quantum of damages, it's not liability. I'm here to answer questions relating to the quantum of damages.
CSJ: Thank you. Then why is it that you say you will go to the witness box --
LKY: I have already explained that, Your Honour --
CSJ: -- and answer questions not just particular to this defamation issue but on all issues of your life. Now tell me, are those just brave words meant for public consumption and in this situation right now you're turning tail and running?
LKY: Ha ha ha, no Your Honour --
CSJ: Good. Then you won't mind me asking you why is it that you make this application to cut short your cross-examination precisely when you walk in at noon and say that you have to be stopped in the cross-examination by 2:15 giving me. the defence, only two hours and fifteen minutes, and then insisting that all of us can't go for lunch. And on top of that refusing to tell the court what this "important matter" you have this afternoon is.
LKY: That's...Your Honour...(pause)
CSJ: I'm lost for words too as I think you are right now.
LKY: ...(pause; Mr Lee was seen opening his mouth to answer but no words came out)
CSJ: Go ahead, Mr Lee.
CSJ: No answer? That settles the question then.
LKY: Ha ha ha.
Judge: Dr Chee!
CSJ: Fine, let Mr Lee continue. I'm just waiting. He's probably lost for words because he doesn't quite know what to say at this stage.
Judge: If you keep interrupting the witness...Yes, Mr Lee.
LKY: ...(even longer pause)
CSJ: Please don't run down the clock. I've only got a few minutes.
At this stage, Mr Davinder Singh jumped in to bail out Mr Lee.
Singh: What is the question? Dr Chee has made so many points in his speech. He has already been told that the time to cross-examine the witness was during the summary judgment. If he had leave to defend. All issues would have been open for Dr Chee to have questioned him. The witness said that for Dr Chee to have questioned him. The witness said that Dr Chee had dodged that application and is now trying through the back door to introduce impermissible material. The witness said he is here as he said to answer questions on quantum. Dr Chee should really get on with the issue of quantum.
CSJ: Let me ask the question again. Mr Lee, you have said that you are here to answer these questions and I say that in that case why did you make an application to, halfway through the session, want the court to cut short this entire hearing. Now, I remind you that we have got until the end of tomorow, the end of tomorrow. So we have one-and-a-half days. But you insist that we have to finish by 2:15 for you to attend to some matters that you won't even reveal to the court. Now I ask you now does this sound like somebody who's willing to come to court and meet and resolve the issues?
LKY: Your Honour, I had a message from one of my counsel's aides to say that I should be in court by here 2 o'clock - by 12 o'clock because Your Honour has imposed a guillotine that the cross-examination of the prime minister would end at twelve. So I turn up at twelve. I was told that the guillotine allowed - had already been late he would be given 2 hours. I suggest - I asked my counsel to request the court to finish this two hours so that I can attend to some important matters. There's no disadvantage to anybody to be sitting here and finishing off this cross-examination within the two hours. What I do not want to be a party to is a deliberate abuse of the process, of the proceedings of the court by delaying tactics.
CSJ: So, Mr Lee --
LKY: And by asking irrelevant questions, Dr Chee is running out the gullotine. At the end of the day, we've had this confrontation face to face have you thrown any dirt, have you dug up any scandal? Are you still saying as you've said before that this government is run like the NKF?
CSJ: Now, Mr Lee, let me try to --
LKY: No, we are here because you have said that --
CSJ: Mr Lee, I'm going to ask you this question and I wish you'd just stick to the questions that I pose to you. I'm asking you why did you come to court --
LKY: Because I was asked --
CSJ: Let me rephrase my question. Are you telling the court that you had nothing to do with the curtailment of this entire process?
Singh: Your Honour, I made the application this morning and Your Honour would remembers that I said I was very troubled with what the Chees did yesterday and that it was quite apparent that they had nothing to ask which was of any relevance and that unfortunately or otherwise has been proven in this exchange. And I said, Your Honour, that the whole purpose of the cross-examination was to insult, annoy and to scandalise and that's also been proven true. For that reason, I had asked that there be a guillotine. Your Honour had full powers to control the proceedings. The order has already been made and I don't see why this witness should be asked to explain something that was the subject of my application and Your Honour's order.
CSJ: Do you see the game that's being played here, Mr Lee? Do you see how you are beginning to hide behind your counsel and then claim, "Look, I'm willing to confront them. It's my counsel." Now I'm going to ask you a very simple question: Right here, right now, tell Mr Davnder Singh "Don't interrupt. I will answer these questions as they are put to me right now."
LKY: Heh-heh. Your Honour, I've briefed counsel, I've always found it's never wise to be my own lawyer in my own case. I know that some perople believe that they can do otherwise, and I'm quite sure that Dr Chee is making a very great impression on all the reporters in this court of how he is better than Mr Ravi --
CSJ: I think you meant Mr Singh.
LKY: I believe Mr Singh is better qualified to deal with the legalities of this case.
CSJ: Well, I should hope so with all the training that he's got. Now, coming back to my question, Mr Lee, is your answer no, that you wll not tell Mr Singh: "Stay out of this. Let me answer my question because --
LKY: I --
CSJ: Let me finish my question -- because you have said -- and I repeat to you -- that you will answer not only questions about the "particular defamation issue, but on all issues in my life."
LKY: Yes...as long as that was what was an issue and that was the, it was an issue in the summary judgement was appealed against. [Note how garbled the answer is.] And we turned up for the hearing but you dodged the hearing.
CSJ: Mr Lee, you are not unintelligent.
LKY: Thank you.
CSJ: You knew precisely what you meant and what you mean is: "Come and ask me all these questions that doesn't pertain to this defamation suit and I will answer you because my entire standing, inlcuding the standing of this government, is at stake." Is that not correct?
LKY: I think, Dr Chee, we'll cut short this proceeding to become more relevant.