17 Mar 2006

High Court Hearing Debates Controversial Issues on what Constitutes Contempt of Court, Freedom of Speech and Political Persecution amongst others

Date of Hearing: 16th & 17th March 2006

The hearing of Attorney General versus Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary general, Dr Chee Soon Juan for contempt of court over his bankruptcy statement which he submitted on 10th February opened in the High Court yesterday before Justice Lai Siu Chiu.

Starting slightly later than the scheduled 10 am, the hearing was first addressed by M Ravi, who also acts as counsel to Dr Chee. He explained that he was not the solicitor in record and that the submissions would be addressed in two sections, the first part from himself and the other by the defendant. He explained that he could not deliver the second part as it may impute him if he were to make those comments. AG Chambers, which was represented by Second Solicitor General Lee Seiu Kin did not have any problems with the representation after Justice Lai queried the prosecution.

M Ravi started off by distinguishing contempt in the face (or not) of the court and continued to argue that Dr Chee's conduct does not constitute contempt. He said that since the assistant registrar, who had the power to allege Dr Chee for contempt had not done so during the bankruptcy petition, henceforth, AG's pressing charges on Dr Chee constitutes as a procedural defect amongst other contentious issues.

Confusion broke out when Mr Lee said that Dr Chee had been served with an affadavit on 13 February of whom the latter had denied receiving. Nevertheless, the hearing adjourned for a 15 minutes break for Dr Chee and counsel to read the “lost” statements.

The prosecution argued that AG has pressed the charges according to order 52 Rules of The Court citing respondent for contempt. He argued subsequently that Singapore courts does not distinguish between contempt in the face (or not) of court after M Ravi cited precedent cases in Malaysia and Canada. He also argued that commonwealth countries have developed in different directions with regards to what constitutes contempt, hence inadmissible in Singapore's situation.

During the hearing, the prosecution read the bankruptcy statement (which was also posted on the Singapore Democratic party website - of which there was only minimal difference between the two, the latter containing the Canadian Oakwell case) that Dr Chee delivered during the bankruptcy petition and cited specific sections which Lee claimed were “scurrilous attacks” on the judiciary that “undermine the integrity and independence of the courts and the judiciary”. The prosecution further posited that Dr Chee was being “selective” in singling out Jeyaretnam and other Opposition and that his statements were “baseless” and “malicious”. He went on to refute the claims Dr Chee made in his bankruptcy statements.

After the lunch break, M Ravi touched on issues of freedom of speech; and that Dr Chee's statements were based on “fair comments” which henceforth does not constitute contempt of court. He argued that there is a need for a balance of approach. He said that the Singapore judiciary needs to be open to criticism in the balance of public interest. The current system in Singapore which lacked a parliamentary ombudsmen or an independent human rights commission effectively meant citizens had no channels of redress. He opined that there is a need to raise the threshold of judicial tolerance and adverse comments on judiciary independence.

Dr Chee who represented himself for his last part of the submission was stopped half-way when Justice Lai felt he was not focusing on rebutting the points made by Mr Lee. He was allowed to proceed after he argued that he was only trying to provide the background for making those comments. Besides narrating the personal reasons and observations, of which he believed he was politically persecuted by the PAP government, he also quoted from the United States Department 2005 Human Rights Record that commented on the Singapore judiciary.

Mr Lee further argued towards the last hour of the first hearing that it will be a sad state of affairs if Dr Chee is not held in contempt as Singapore needs to adopt to “local sensitivities”. He said that allowing precedents with Dr Chee case would slowly erode the basic foundations of the judiciary.

Justice Lai ended the session at 5 pm and remarked that Dr Chee and M Ravi had not addressed the issue of contempt. She has however reserved sentence and adjourned the case until the next morning.

The hearing which re-opened at 10 the next morning concluded within an hour.

Mr Lee, the prosecutor said that Dr Chee has not shown remorse but instead compounded his contempt for court during yesterday's trial and by giving an interview with Straits Times. He suggested that the nature and extent of Dr Chee's case warranted imprisonment though it will be a first for contempt of court in Singapore. He added that if Dr Chee thought being a politician would “immunize” and gave him “unlimited” freedom of speech, then he is wrong. He added that changes to the constitutional system should stay within the parliament and political arena, not the courts.

Besides summarizing yesterday's arguments, M Ravi added that Dr Chee should also be protected under the clause of Article 12, the Equation Clause of the Constitution which states that “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”. He made this reference to the fact that Dr Chee was merely citing quotations from various bodies (not plucking out from thin air). He also used the analogy of foreigners being allowed to protest during the upcoming IMF-World Bank Protest whereas Singaporeans are denied this freedom to highlight Dr Chee's situation.

At the end of the hearing, the court sentenced Dr Chee to a day's jail and an additional jail term of seven days if he did not pay the fine of 6,000 Singapore dollars (3,700 US) by 5:00 pm (0900 GMT). He is also to pay for the AG costs tax on standard basis.

Justice Lai found Dr Chee in contempt of court as she found that Dr Chee has quoted from bodies which contains “half-truths, untruths and lies”. She also agreed with Mr Lee that it is one of the worst cases in “scandalising the courts” and that there were no mitigating circumstances for lenient sentences which M Ravi had earlier pleaded.

Dr Chee's contempt case has received international attention. Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, International Council Member of Nonviolence International, NGO in Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC, has filed a complaint to the Office of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights requesting “prompt intervention on his pending imprisonment for speaking his opinion”. A second complaint was sent to United Nations' Special Rapporteur of the Commission of Human Rights by 11 law-makers and activists, including Singapore's former solicitor general, Mr Francis Seow. The World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA) of which Dr Chee, is a steering committee member of, has released a statement calling on the Singapore government to cease this act of political persecution.

Links:

1.AG Application on Dr Chee for contempt of court can be accessed from the SDP website, specifically at this link, http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/articlecontemptofcourt.html

2.Dr Chee's statements delivered during his bankruptcy petition can be accessed from the SDP website, specifically at this link, http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/articlecheebankruptcy.html

3.US Department, Singapore, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005, Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61626.htm

4.Complaint to UN human rights commission lodged on “contempt of court” case, 6 March 2006, by Non Violence International can be accessed from the SDP website, specifically at this link, http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/articlecontemptofcourt1.html

5.Second complaint sent to the UN on CSJ case, 10 Mar 06, can be accessed from the SDP website, specifically at this link, http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/articlecontemptofcourt3.html

6.WFDA Steering Committee statement, 15 March 2006, can be accessed from the Alliance for Reform & Democracy website specifically at this link, http://www.asiademocracy.org/content_view.php?section_id=1&content_id=675

11 comments:

Jochen said...

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...now will the wake up politically?

Students from Singapore have shown amazing enthusiasm in amateur pornography last days, flooding the net with search requests for the Tammy NYP and Bukit Batok Videos. It seems that they are not so much aware of the parliamentary elections coming closer this year...

Anonymous said...

It takes a real man to stand up to the PAP cowards and what one knows to be truth .

Anonymous said...

How many in the PAP camp are willing to take the blows like Dr Chee to stand up for what they believe in?

Anonymous said...

How old is old lee now?

Anonymous said...

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