Ad hoc admission in Singapore – the saga continues
About a year ago we wrote about the feasibility of overseas counsel successfully obtaining an order for ad hoc admission in Singapore. The rules of court were amended in 2012 to permit overseas counsel to seek as hoc admission. We said then that ad hoc admission was feasible, no question. In recent years, a handful of applicants seeking ad hoc admission in Singapore have enjoyed mixed success and in the latest decision, re Heather Rogers QC  SGHC 175, Chong J has now made the task onerous, if not largely impossible.Securing ad hoc admission in Singapore has never been easy. A few years ago CommBar friend Dame Geraldine Andrews succeeded in re Geraldine Andrews QC  SGHC 229. In re Lord Peter Goldsmith PC QC  4 SLR 921 followed, then came in re Jonathan Caplan QC  3 SLR 66, then in re Michael Beloff QC  3 SLR 424 and then re Michael Fordham QC  1 SLR 277. A substantial body of jurisprudence on this very specific issue had emerged by the time one of Britain’s most prominent defamation Silks Heather Rogers QC applied for ad hoc admission. She writes Duncan & Neill’s Laws of Defamation, the bible on defamation. Yet her ad hoc admission application was refused. Here’s why.Lee Hsien Loo, son of Lee Kwan Yew, is the Prime Minister of Singapore and was in May 2014 when Roy Ngerng Yi Ling allegedly defamed him. Interlocutory judgment was ordered with damages to be assessed. Concerned to keep damages low the defendant retained Heather Rogers QC. She deposed to her vast experience in defamation cases in the UK, how she was the author of the leading text and that a local advocate was to be her junior if an order granting her ad hoc admission were made.
The case came before another CommBar friend, Justice Steven Chong. His Honour’s more important findings and observations are these –
- the rules require every applicant for ad hoc admission to demonstrate in a highly local-centric atmosphere that he or she possesses “special qualifications and experience”;
- an applicant must demonstrate to the court that the issues for determination in the case call for the special qualifications and experience of the applicant;
- care must be taken in framing those issues;
- if the issues for determination are framed too narrowly, no foreign senior counsel will ever have the necessary familiarity with local laws and if the issues are framed too generally, then the requirement of “special qualifications for the case” will be stripped of all content;
- Singaporean defamation law, while tracing its heritage to the English common law, is now largely a product of autochthonous development;
- it was not to the point that Heather Rogers QC could get up to speed on relevant local principles in time for the hearing – the relevant enquiry was whether she already possessed the requisite qualifications for the purposes of the case;
- the case to hand was an assessment of damages only so the issues were not so complex or difficult that the services of a foreign senior counsel were required;
- all applicants must prove (a) the nature of the factual and legal issues involved (b) the necessity for a foreign senior counsel (c) the availability of local senior counsel or other advocate or solicitor with experience and (d) whether, having regard to the circumstances of the case, it is reasonable to admit the applicant as a foreign senior counsel for the purposes of the case;
- “reasonable to admit” equates to “necessary to admit”;
- a reasonably conscientious search for local counsel, as required by the rules, was not made;
- the court will not permit a litigant’s delay to creates the need for a foreign senior counsel to be admitted to argue a case.
The Singapore International Commercial Court requires an Australian lawyer to register as a foreign lawyer in accordance with the Legal Profession (Foreign Representation in the Singapore International Commercial Court) Rules, 2014. For details go to www.sicc.gov.sg. Currently SICC has 25 registered foreign lawyers.