SINGAPORE (Oct 15): Judge Hoo Sheau Peng on Monday dismissed a legal application by John Soh Chee Wen, the alleged mastermind behind the 2013 penny stock crash, to recuse herself from presiding over the case.

Hoo in February this year had heard – and denied – Soh’s application for bail, citing grounds of flight risk and possibility of further witness tampering.

See: Court denies bail for John Soh; cites flight risk and danger of witness tampering

Soh was in court today as his legal counsel, Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan from Straits Law, filed an application to recuse the judge. Sreenivasan raised the issue of apparent bias as Hoo has previously denied Soh bail, despite claims that Soh faced adverse conditions while preparing for trial.

Soh’s defence lawyers had argued that the team faced limitations in preparing for the trial while he is kept in prison, where he had to sit cross-legged or squat in front of a plastic box.

Soh was arrested on Nov 24, 2016, and has been held in remand ever since.

Applying the test of a fair-minded and informed observer, Sreenivasan argued that such an observer would have an impression of bias of a judge that has heard a bail application and a trial.

Senior Deputy Public Prosecutor Peter Koy rebutted that a fair-minded and informed individual would know that the bail proceedings and trial are different. In addition, Koy highlighted that a judge would be able to separate between the relevant and irrelevant facts concerning the two.

Koy also argued that the test of a fair-minded and informed observer of what has happened and what is laid out in the judgement will believe that the judge will remain impartial.

Sreenivasan fired back that the bail application does not have the same standard of truth compared to a criminal trial, where rigorous fact-finding, cross-examination and proving of evidence is required. He added that Hoo had acted on the supposition that the witness tampering occurred, and will also preside over a trial where the charges for witness tampering will be decided.

However, Hoo dismissed the application, rebutting the issue of circumstances that would give rise to an apparent bias. She noted that a bail application is different from a trial, which has rigorous fact-finding, cross-examination and evidence.

On the grounds of supposedly preferring the prosecution’s evidence for witness tampering and the statement that “there is some tampering that has occurred over a long period of time,” Hoo said it is only appropriate that the proper fact-finding be carried out at trial.

Hoo also addressed the issue of the investigation overlapping with her time at the Attorney-General’s Chambers, saying that she has no involvement in the matter or was consulted or give advice on this case. “When I found the applicant to be a flight risk, that is immaterial to whether the applicant is guilty at trial,” said Hoo.

“To uphold the traditions of impartiality of judges, if I had any involvement [with the case while at Attorney-General’s Chambers], that still allowed me to hear the bail application, I would have disclosed and heard both parties’ submissions,” she added.