When reading Minister for Law, K Shanmugam’s comments with regards to the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, it would appear to suggest that contempt of court is hitherto not a crime in Singapore. This is clearly not the case. If contempt of court is currently not a crime, how then did Alan Shadrake get a jail sentence and on what basis was blogger Alex Au fined? Contempt of court has always been a crime in Singapore. The pertinent change that this Bill will introduce will be that there will be specific legislation dealing directly with contempt.
From the examples cited above, the courts in Singapore have always managed to protect the judiciary against statements that are deemed to scandalize the courts. Why then is a specific Bill necessary? Does the government not trust its judges to exercise their discretion as to what would constitute scandalous to itself?
Even if that were not the intention, spelling out specific examples of what would be tantamount to contempt in a Bill would give the impression that the powers be would like an easier and more efficient way of clamping down on people who may ask inconvenient questions. Is that contempt of court or can it be construed as another means of control?
Besides, why is Mr Shanmugam so concerned with what the British High Commissioner has to say? Members of our own government and those employed by the state have certainly seen it fit to comment on the affairs of other countries. Why then should Singapore’s affairs be untouchable?
Ambassador at large, Mr Kaukisan has undoubtedly felt entitled to opine on the affairs of other countries. What of our late Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew who has on many occasions spoken candidly on the affairs of other countries? Why the double standards?
Mr Shanmugam’s rebuke to the High Commissioner seems like a massive overreaction. While the High Commissioner’s throwaway comments might have been insensitive at worst, Mr Shanmugam’s were downright aggressive, confrontational and insulting. Will this be seen as drama created in order to distract the public from examining the purposes of the Bill?
Can this be viewed as a case of blowing something out of proportion to fan the flames of nationalism to detract the public from questioning the Bill in detail?
Singapore is a developed and rich country. Its achievements should speak for itself. Why is there a need to put down another country by calling it “a “collapsed” country politically, economically, monetarily and constitutionally”?
Other than coming across as overly defensive, what has this got to do with the Bill in the first place? Perhaps it is coming from a fear? Somehow that if the courts have to put up with potential criticism that our country will collapse economically and monetarily? While the United Kingdom has its faults, it is by no means a collapsed country.
Nor is the apparent subliminal message that Singapore will fall apart if it were criticised warranted. In fact, it is downright misleading!
The British media has definitely come under public scrutiny for its questionable relationship with certain government figures. These scandals however, do come to light precisely because there do not exist any laws that prevent whistle blowing or uncomfortable questions. It is the ability to criticise that encourages accountability and transparency. Something that all Singaporeans are entitled to!
How many times has the Straits Times come under fire for allegedly being a mouthpiece for the government? To date, there has never been a public inquiry on these accusations whereas in the United Kingdom, there have been many!
In addition, why is there a need to bring up the perennial pay issue yet again? We pay our ministers a large salary to prevent them from becoming corrupt. Now Mr Shanmugam is suggesting that the Judiciary in the United Kingdom is “not protected, underpaid and feels under valued” Does high salary necessarily mean better workers or can it be seen as an iron rice bowl to guarantee submission?
On what basis has Mr Shanmugam come to the conclusion that the judiciary in the United Kingdom feel undervalued, under paid and unprotected? A simple Google search on the pay scales of the judiciary in the United Kingdom would render that sweeping statement untrue.
Besides, does the Judiciary really need protecting from the state? While Mr Shanmugam may have been well intentioned in his impassioned defence of the Bill, it does come across as a Bill, which will enable easy prosecution for those who ask inconvenient questions.