A Singaporean woman who underwent divorce proceedings made an application to remove a district judge from the Family Justice Courts from deciding her custody case with her ex-husband. She failed to do so.
The woman had married her ex-husband sometime in 2001 and split after the ex-husband filed for divorce in 2013. They have 3 children. In 2014, the ex-husband filed a personal protection order (PPO) application on behalf of the parties’ eldest daughter and the personal protection order (PPO) was granted by the district judge after a trial.
In the woman’s present application to remove the district judge, she argued that since the district judge had issued a personal protection order (PPO) in favour of her eldest daughter against her, made “unflattering remarks” about her, the judge would have a “preconceived notion of her character.” The woman’s lawyers were clear that there was no claim of “actual bias” but “apparent bias”.
The former husband’s lawyers argued that the district judge’s judgment was based on evidence and they were “objective, fair and considered, backed by detailed reasons.”
Judgment of High Court of Singapore
In rejecting the woman’s application, Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah said: “Even if the district judge had found grounds to grant a personal protection order (PPO) against (her) that does not mean that a reasonable suspicion of bias would necessarily be established if she hears the subsequent ancillary matters pertaining to the children of the marriage.”
The Honourable Judicial Commissioner added: “a fair-minded reasonable observer or member of the public would accept that a judge would carry out judicial duties conscientiously, and would not readily or easily slip in thinking, by letting previous adverse findings against (the woman) close his or her mind in subsequent proceedings”.
The Judicial Commissioner also clarified that just because a judge had previously made adverse comments or ruled against a person is “on its own, not sufficient for a recusal application to succeed”.
“The rule against apparent bias is not meant to be a check against language used- assessment of evidence and conclusions on credibility need to be weighed against what was adduced.”
Finally, the Judicial Commissioner referred to the “docket system” in which the same judge will hear issues on different applications involving the same case until its conclusion.
See: K.C. Vijayan, “Woman’s bid to change judge rejected”, The Straits Times, 24 December 2016
The docketed divorce case system in Singapore was introduced in recent years.
Some of the most contested, disputed and acrimonious divorce/ annulment cases in the Family Justice Courts and High Court are “docketed”. This means that a Judge follows the case involving the couple until the end. Such acrimonious cases usually involve multiple applications and issues- such as applications for interim custody, maintenance, etc. Under the docketed divorce case system in Singapore, the same Judge who follows the case will have the advantage of knowing the nature of the case. This helps him/ her make the most appropriate decisions.
You may also be interested to read more about:
For more information, please contact us here.