Wed, May 31 2006
Singapore’s Law Ministry has roundly rejected allegations about a "biased Singapore judiciary," which has come under intense scrutiny in a case in Canada.
The Canadian company making the allegations has already lost a court battle on its home ground in Canada, it pointed out.
Ontario-based EnerNorth Industries, an oil and gas company, is arguing that it never got a fair trial in Singapore after it was ordered to pay US$2.79 million (C$3.1 million) by the courts here to its former Singapore-based partner, Oakwell Engineering.
But Oakwell won in Canada too, pointed out a Law Ministry spokesman.
Justice Gerald Day of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in its favour when it applied to have the award enforced in Canada last August.
But EnerNorth appealed.
It asked the Ontario Court of Appeal to decide if legal decisions made in Singapore are fair and impartial enough to meet Canadian standards of justice.
The appeals court reserved judgment after hearing the case recently.
Oakwell is a Singapore corporation that supplies engineering works and products in the marine industry while EnerNorth is an Ontario corporation engaged in shipbuilding, engineering, construction and power generation around the world.
In June 1997, the two firms agreed to jointly finance, construct and operate two mobile power plants to generate electricity in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India.
But 14 months later the project soured and EnerNorth bought out Oakwell’s stake in exchange for US$2.79 million, royalty payments, and shares in EnerNorth.
EnerNorth did not stick to the deal and in August 2002, Oakwell sued for US$2.79 million in Singapore.
The case was heard by the late Justice Lai Kew Chai.
EnerNorth brought a counterclaim against Oakwell for US$175 million (C$195 million) but its claim was dismissed and it was ordered to pay the money demanded by Oakwell.
EnerNorth’s appeal in Singapore was dismissed by a three-man court headed by former Chief Justice Yong Pung How in April 2004.
EnerNorth’s allegations in Canada have been dismissed by Oakwell’s lawyers.
"This is not a political case. It is a commercial matter.
"It was heard before the courts of a country built on foreign investment, with an impeccable reputation for fairness to foreign firms like EnerNorth," said Oakwell’s lawyers.
In Singapore, EnerNorth was represented by lawyers from Drew & Napier and Oakwell by Philip Jeyaretnam.
A Law Ministry spokesman said: "These allegations have been roundly rejected by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice."
In deciding the case, Judge Day of the Ontario Superior Court said that he was satisfied "that there is no reason to doubt the impartiality of the judges who heard the case in Singapore."
"Singapore prides itself on having an independent and impartial judiciary," said the Law Ministry spokesman.
She added that the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong has "consistently rated the Singapore judicial system as one of the best in the region, and emphasized that Singapore has one of the most fair and transparent legal systems in the world."