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Government introduces ‘harsh’ bill in parliament to quell sub judice

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A new bill introduced in parliament today (11 Jul) spelled out what is contempt of court conduct and also proposed a framework of penalties. The Law Minister, Mr K Shanmugam, had in March 2016 said that the Government will relook laws to see how legitimate discussions on general principles and approaches prior to a hearing can be done with care. He was answering a parliamentary question on the 14-year-old schoolboy who died after police interrogation.

The Law Minister said that the new bill, Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, will have three benefits:

  1. It will give the public a better sense of what actions will be sub judice (undue influence of court proceedings), and what is scandalising the courts (unfounded allegations of bias in judgments).
  2. It provides a framework for contempt of court punishments and sets a limit on fines and prison sentences. Currently, there is no maximum and the level of punishment is left entirely to the judges.
  3. It will spell out the specific powers that the courts will have to enforce its orders.

The new bill introduced in Parliament is viewable here: http://bit.ly/29H2Kzr.

Human rights advocate M Ravi commenting on the new bill introduced in Parliament today said that “there should be public consultation by way of a Select Committee hearing as this impacts our freedom of speech concerning the administration of justice.”

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The Law Ministry said that it consulted various stakeholders including the Judiciary, the Law Society of Singapore, the media industry and lawyers in drafting of the Bill.

Lawyer Choo Zhengxi said: “The striking thing about the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill is the potential punishment for Contempt of Court appear to be very harsh: a fine of up to S$100,000 or imprisonment of up to 3 years or both in the case of contempt jurisdiction exercised by the High Court.

“In what was described as the “worst case of contempt” in Singapore, Alan Shadrake’s case, Alan was given 6 weeks and a $20,000 fine. In Alex Au’s case, which involved scandalizing contempt of the Chief Justice, a fine of S$8,000 was meted out. Other fines meted out have generally ranged from S$500 – $10,000.”

In writing for the Law Gazette in 2015, lawyer Sui Yi Siong said, “the law of sub judice contempt was meant to uphold the right to a fair trial, not to constrain public opinion or act as a gag on free speech. Perhaps the time has come to consider if sub judice contempt should be retained as part of the law of contempt of Court in Singapore.”

The Attorney General Chambers and other Government officials had in the past urged members of the public to be mindful of the sub-judice principle when commenting on high profile cases which were before the Court.

Today the police reminded the public about the sub-judice principle when it provided further comment on the case of a 26-year-old man who died of unnatural causes in Yishun,

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