Case Summaries

Vellama d/o Marie Muthu v Attorney-General

1 November 2012

Media Summary

Vellama d/o Marie Muthu v Attorney-General [2012] SGHC 221
Originating Summons No. 196 of 2012/G

Decision of the High Court (delivered by Justice Philip Pillai)

1     On 28 February 2012, the Parliamentary seat for Hougang Single Member Constituency (“SMC”) was declared vacant. On 2 March 2012, the Applicant filed judicial review applications seeking a Mandatory Order and two Declarations that Article 49 of the Constitution required the Prime Minister to call a by-election.

2     On 3 April 2012, the Applicant’s application for leave (“Leave Application”) to proceed with the judicial review was granted. On 9 May 2012, a writ of election calling for a by-election in Hougang SMC was issued by the President, and a by-election was held on 26 May 2012.

3     The Applicant proceeded and filed her substantive application  on 29 May 2012 (“the Substantive Application”). At the hearing of the Substantive Application on 16 July 2012, she abandoned her application for the Mandatory Order and proceeded with her application for the declarations under O 53 and her previously Reserved Application for the Declarations. Her Substantive Application and Reserved Application were dismissed by the court for the reasons set out in the final judgment on 1 August 2012.

4     This present judgment is about the costs of all the applications based on submissions made by both counsel after the release of the final judgment.

5     The Applicant’s counsel now sought costs for her successful Leave Application and for those costs to be set off against the costs to be awarded to the Attorney-General (“AG”) who was successful in the final judgment. The AG’s counsel submitted that costs for the Leave Application should now be determined to have been costs in the cause and sought total costs of S$10,000. The Applicant’s counsel then submitted that there should be no costs orders against the Applicant on the grounds of public interest: at [23]. 

6     On the costs for the Leave Application, after leave was granted, it was open to both parties to make submissions on costs for the Leave Application based on the then prevailing circumstances. However, both parties did not then make any submission for costs. An impartial and fair determination of the costs for the Leave Application cannot now be made because of the overhang of the known final judgment. The Court therefore declined to determine costs for the Leave Application in these circumstances: see [13]–[18].

7     As both counsel submitted on the basis of all applications determined by the final judgment the court proceeded on this same basis. The Court has full discretion to determine costs. Whilst costs are generally awarded to the successful party, public interest considerations are relevant considerations to the exercise of this discretion: at [32]–[44]. Public interest is engaged where there are questions of law of general public importance and where the applicant has no private interest in the proceedings. On the particular circumstances of these proceedings, the Court found both to be present. In particular the Court found that the constitutional questions raised by the declarations were of general public importance as reflected in extensive contemporaneous debates by Members of Parliament both within Parliament and in the media, amongst constitutional law academics and on the internet and print media: at [45].

8     The Court ordered no order as to costs for the applications leading to the final judgment and the costs hearing.

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.