Stansfield Business International v Minister of Manpower is noteworthy as the High Court of Singapore overturned the decision of the Minister of Manpower notwithstanding Section 14(5) of the Employment Act which provides that the minister's decisions shall be final and shall not be challenged in court. The High Court ruled that Section 14(5) does not oust the jurisdiction of the court if the process the minister uses to reach his decision is not in accordance with the rules of natural justice.
The complainant (Mr N) was employed by Stansfield Business International as a lecturer in a private commercial school. Stansfield was dissatisfied with Mr N's performance and therefore asked him to resign (with payment of one month's salary). Mr N refused and was issued with a letter of termination without notice. He then complained of unjust dismissal to the Minister of Manpower. Under Section 14(2) of the Employment Act, an employee who suffers unjust dismissal can, within one month of the dismissal, make representations to the Minister of Manpower to be reinstated to his former employment. After an investigation in accordance with the then existing internal procedures of the Manpower Ministry, the minister gave the order that there was unfair dismissal and that Stansfield should pay compensation to Mr N.
The High Court held that the ministry did not satisfy the basic requirements of natural justice for two main reasons. Firstly, Stansfield was not informed of the allegations made by Mr N and this breached the rule that a party must be informed of allegations made against him. Secondly, the Manpower Ministry conducted separate interviews with the disputants and did not question Stansfield on its motive for terminating Mr N's employment. This breached the rule that a person should be given a fair opportunity to make his case and to address the other party's allegations. The High Court also noted that Section 14 provides that the commissioner is responsible for conducting the inquiry into the dismissal and reporting whether it was justified. The labour relations officer who performed these tasks in the Stansfield Case was not of such a rank. Because of these procedural deficiencies, the High Court declared that the Minster of Manpower's decision was invalid.
It has been reported that the ministry will not appeal the court's ruling.
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