Case Summaries

Tan Seet Eng v Attorney-General

25 November 2015

Media Summary

Civil Appeal No 201 of 2014

Tan Seet Eng v Attorney-General [2015] SGCA 59


1     On 19 November 2014, the High Court had dismissed Tan Seet Eng’s ("the Appellant") application for an order to review his detention under s 30 of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (Cap 67, 2000 Rev Ed) ("the CLTPA"). The Appellant appealed the High Court’s decision.

2     In a judgment released today, the Court of Appeal allowed the Appellant’s appeal, and ordered that he be released from detention. The court observed that the case is undoubtedly important for the Appellant who has been detained without trial; but in addition it is also important to society as a whole because in the judgement, the court deals with:

(a)     the limits of the Executive’s power under s 30 of the CLTPA;

(b)     the approach the court should adopt when hearing such applications; and

(c)     how the court should carry out its constitutional responsibility in assessing whether the Executive’s powers under the CLTPA have been properly exercised.

The facts

3     The Appellant was arrested on 16 September 2013. He was alleged to have been involved in global football match-fixing activities. The Minister for Home Affairs ("the Minister") issued and served an order under s 30 of the CLTPA on the Appellant on 2 October 2013, detaining him for 12 months starting from that day itself. The grounds of detention stated that between 2009 and 2013, the Appellant had led and financed a global football match-fixing syndicate operating from Singapore, with the particulars that:

(d)     he recruited runners in Singapore and directed match-fixing agents and runners from Singapore to assist in match-fixing between 2009 and September 2013;

(e)     he financed and assisted with match-fixing activities in Egypt between September and December 2010 by providing a contact for a corrupt referee;

(f)     he financed football match-fixing activities in South Africa in May 2010;

(g)     he directed and financed football match-fixing activities in Nigeria in June 2011;

(h)     he financed football match-fixing activities in Turkey in February 2011; and

(i)     he assisted with attempted football match-fixing activities in Trinidad and Tobago in mid-2011 by sending a match-fixing agent to provide support to another match-fixing agent in relation to match-fixing activities.

4     On 29 September 2014, the Appellant’s lawyers were informed that the Appellant’s detention had been reviewed and the President had decided to extend his detention for a year with effect from 2 October 2014.

The Court of Appeal’s decision

5     The Court of Appeal reversed the High Court’s decision. The court held that the review of the Minister’s exercise of discretion was to be done on an objective basis, and in reviewing detentions made under the CLTPA, the traditional grounds of review of illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety should be applied. The Court of Appeal departed from the standard laid down in Kamal Jit Singh v Ministry of Home Affairs and others [1992] 3 SLR(R) 352 – that probable cause had to be shown that the detention was unlawful. The Court of Appeal held that its task under the traditional grounds of review in such cases was to closely scrutinise the grounds put forward by the Minister and consider objectively whether on the face of these grounds, the decision is open to challenge on the basis of illegality, irrationality, or procedural impropriety.

6     In the inquiry into legality, the court could and should examine whether the Minister had properly invoked the power vested in him. If the Minister had acted outside the scope of the powers conferred by Parliament, then the detention would not be upheld and the detainee would have to be released. On this basis the court examined the legislative history of the CLTPA to establish what, if any, limits there were to the application of the CLTPA and concluded that the CLTPA extended to acts of a criminal nature which included the following features:

(a)     the use of violence, or the threat of reprisals to intimidate and prevent witnesses from testifying;

(b)     criminal activity of a sufficiently serious level of gravity; and

(c)     criminal activity that poses a threat to public order in Singapore.

7     On the facts, the offences disclosed in the grounds of detention issued against the Appellant did not fall within the scope of the CLTPA. While leading a match-fixing syndicate could entail activities of a sufficiently serious nature to invoke the CLTPA, there was nothing to indicate that the Appellant did engage in activities of such a serious nature that he fell within the remit of the CLTPA. The facts recite that he recruited runners and agents over a 13-month period that ended almost two and a half years before he was served with a detention order, and was involved in financing and/or directing unspecified match-fixing activities in Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Turkey, and Trinidad and Tobago. These at their highest amounted to corrupt practices but they did not rise to the level of gravity which would bring the Appellant within the scope of the Minister’s power to act under the CLTPA.

8     Moreover, the grounds of detention showed very few connections with Singapore, and there was nothing to indicate that the Appellant was working with overseas syndicates or that activities detrimental to the public safety, peace and good order of Singapore were likely to take root in Singapore through anything that he did which was mentioned in the grounds of detention. There was also no suggestion that witnesses were being intimidated by the Appellant, or that witnesses were unwilling to testify against the Appellant.

9     For these reasons, the Minister had gone beyond the scope of his power in detaining the Appellant and the appeal was allowed.

* This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court.