RECAP: 1st Day of Trial / The "Exclusion" of Witnesses

7 August 2017
(Substantive Editing on 11 August 2017)

The first 4 days of my trial is now over. I had tried to provide a daily update no matter how brief. From now on, I'll be blogging about issues of interest or significance arising from the 4 days of hearing last week. 

The first memorable incident in my 4 days of trial occurred on the morning of the first day on 2 August 2017. It is about the unexpected presence of one of NUS' witnesses, Prof Jeffrey Pinsler, in the public gallery of the courtroom and an unusual request Prof Pinsler or NUS made. 

Prof Pinsler chaired the Committee of Inquiry (COI) convened by NUS in 2005 to look into my complaint against my supervisor. NUS did not inform me of the precise outcome of the COI and refused to give me a copy of the COI report back in 2005. NUS has called Prof Pinsler to be one of its six witnesses in this lawsuit.

"Exclusion" of witnesses

Now, this is what I learned recently –  there exists a principle or rule regarding the "exclusion" of witnesses. The principle/rule of exclusion works this way: witnesses who have yet to testify or give their evidence in a court trial are forbidden to attend the hearing. In other words, only witnesses who have already been cross-examined/re-examined can attend the (rest of the) hearing.

In my case, I am the 1st witness to be cross-examined/re-examined in the present suit (S667/2012). I am the Plaintiff and also the Plaintiff's only witness. While I am giving evidence at the witness stand, none of the other witnesses can attend the Court hearing. Prof Lily Kong is the Defendant's (NUS') 1st witness and also the second person to give her evidence in Court after me. After she is released from the witness stand, she may attend the rest of the hearing.

So, as a witness, Prof Jeffrey Pinsler does not have a right to sit in the courtroom during the hearing when I am being cross-examined.

This was what happened

On the morning of the first day of court (2 August), lawyers from both sides went into the judge's chambers (in private) to address some housekeeping matters before the hearing was to commence in open court. I was seated behind the lawyers' table on the second row of tables within the restricted zone of the courtroom as I waited for them to deal with the housekeeping matters with the judge.

The lawyers returned to the courtroom from the judge's chambers before hearing started. It was just after 11.00 am.

I was taken by surprise when my lawyer told me that the NUS lawyer had made the request to my lawyer to let Prof Jeffrey Pinsler – who had yet to give his evidence in court – to sit in the trial while I was under cross-examination.

I had never met Prof Pinsler and hence, I was unable to recognise him. I asked my lawyer if Prof Pinsler was already seated in the public gallery of the courtroom. (There was a group of people seated together and I had guessed that they were from NUS.) My lawyer said yes. 

(To be clear, NUS can send representatives to Court to observe the whole court proceeding from beginning to end, but NUS' witnesses are not allowed to be present in the trial before they give their evidence to the court.)

I asked my lawyer if Prof Pinsler was to be precluded from the courtroom (since he had yet to be cross-examined) as a principle or rule of the court. My lawyer said yes. 

So, I told my lawyer that it was best to just adhere to normal practice – Prof Pinsler should not be there to observe me being cross-examined if he had no right to do so. 

This was communicated to NUS' lawyer. Prof Pinsler picked up his suit jacket and left. Yes, he was indeed seated amongst that animated group of people which I thought was from NUS. Hearing commenced not long after this matter was settled. (I proceeded to give my evidence to Court from that late morning onwards till the morning of the 4th day of trial.)



My discomfort

I was and still am baffled with Prof Pinsler's request.

First, as a matter of courtesy, I think Prof Pinsler should not even have entered the courtroom before NUS' lawyer took the step to find out if my side had objections to this unusual request or if the judge would grant this unusual request. He should have just waited outside the courtroom first.

Second, it gave me no comfort when I realised that Prof Pinsler was already observing me from the public gallery while I had no knowledge of his presence in the courtroom. (I had naturally assumed that no NUS witnesses were present in the courtroom.)

Third, how could Prof Pinsler be listening to my testimony regarding matters that relate to Prof Pinsler (and other NUS witnesses) before he gave his testimony against my case? Wouldn't it be prejudicial to me if he could tailor his testimony (later on during his cross-examination) vis-à-vis my testimony, to his advantage, if he already knew all the content of my testimony given during my cross-examination?


Who is Prof Jeffrey Pinsler?

Prof Pinsler is not only an NUS witness giving evidence in court against my case against NUS, Prof Pinsler is a law professor in NUS, a Senior Counsel of the Supreme Court of Singapore, and counts the study of "evidence" as well as court procedure amongst his many areas of expertise.

Prof Pinsler's professional profile can be accessed through this link: 
http://law.nus.edu.sg/about_us/faculty/staff/profileview.asp?UserID=lawpinsl

Prof Pinsler's research interests are:

Civil justice 

Civil and criminal evidence 


Procedure 


Ethics and Professional Responsibility 



The subjects that Prof Pinsler has taught:

Civil Justice & Process 

Evidence & Procedure 


Ethics and Professional Responsibility 


Prof Pinsler's representative publications are:

1. Evidence and the Litigation Process (2013)

2. Principles of Civil Procedure (2012)

3. Singapore Court Practice (2009)

4. Civil Practice in Singapore and Malaysia (loose-leaf).

5. Atkins Court Forms (Consultant Editor) (loose-leaf).

6. Ethics and Professional Responsibility: A Code for the Advocate and Solicitor Singapore Court Practice (2007).

Source: http://law.nus.edu.sg/about_us/faculty/staff/profileview.asp?UserID=lawpinsl

What can I say?

My friends tell me not to let this incident dent my confidence and dim my fighting spirit. Well, at least I can now tell people that I once "threw" Prof Jeffrey Pinsler SC "out" of the courtroom.