Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU
ON 9 APRIL, Justice Philip Pillai, sitting in the High Court, released the grounds for his decision for granting leave – that is, permission – for Mdm Vellama Marie Muthu’s judicial review application in the Hougang by-election case. She had applied for a declaration that the Prime Minister does not have unfettered discretion when deciding whether or not a by-election should be called in Hougang Single Member Constituency, and a mandatory order requiring the PM to advise the President to call a by-election within three months or some other reasonable time determined by the court.
A mandatory order is a type of prerogative order. Prerogative orders, formerly called prerogative writs, were so called because at first they could only be issued at the prerogative of the British Crown. However, by the end of the 16th century, any aggrieved citizen could ask for them to be issued.
An application for one or more prerogative orders is made pursuant to Order 53 of the Rules of Court, and is a two-stage process. The hearing before Justice Pillai was the first stage. Here, what the applicant had to do was to seek leave to apply for a mandatory order. Why is this stage necessary? As the judge pointed out, it is “intended to be a means of filtering out groundless or hopeless cases at an early stage, and its aim is to prevent a wasteful use of judicial time and to protect public bodies from harassment (whether intentional or otherwise) that might arise from a need to delay implementing decisions, where the legality of such decisions is being challenged”. Continue reading