MPs write appeal letters to court only in ‘urgent cases’

MPs generally advised to write to MinLaw, says PAP Whip in response to queries after judge's remarks on MP's letter

At Meet-the-People Sessions, some residents involved in court cases may approach their MPs for help. Lawyers interviewed by The Sunday Times said MPs should be wary of sending criminal appeal letters to the courts. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

By Yuen Sin

The People’s Action Party (PAP) has made public its internal procedure for when its MPs should write letters of appeal directly to the courts on behalf of residents, saying this is usually done only for “urgent cases”.

MPs are generally advised to write to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw), which will then forward the letters of appeal – for example, when asking for leniency in sentencing – to the courts for their consideration, said PAP Whip Chan Chun Sing.

“It will be for the courts to determine how much weight should be given to the appeal,” he said.

But in urgent cases, for instance if the hearing is in the next few days, “MPs sometimes use their discretion, to give letters by hand to residents, to be used in court”, said Mr Chan, in response to queries from The Sunday Times.

The question of when MPs should write to the courts arose after a judge took issue with the misrepresentation of facts in an MP’s letter to the State Courts. It downplayed a motorist’s culpability in an accident.

In judgment grounds released last week, Justice See Kee Oon highlighted this as “somewhat troubling”.

According to the letter from Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min, Tang Ling Lee’s car had “accidentally brushed a motorcyclist resulting in the motorcyclist sustaining some injuries”. However, according to the statement of facts, the victim had suffered multiple fractures requiring a dozen operations in two months.

Justice See said the statements were “regrettably misleading” if they correctly reflected what Tang had conveyed to her MP.

“It would appear that they sought to unfairly trivialise the accident and diminish the true extent of the victim’s substantial injuries,” added Justice See, who dismissed her appeal against a one-week jail term in the High Court.

On how far MPs should go in verifying what residents say before writing appeal letters on their behalf, Mr Chan said MPs are usually “not in a position to verify the facts narrated by the resident”.

According to the party’s “longstanding internal protocol”, the MP will write to present the resident’s case if requested to do so, and the letter will be based on the resident’s assertions.

Dr Lam told The Sunday Times he had sent a letter of appeal to the Traffic Police last February on behalf of Tang, when she approached him at his Meet-the-People Session (MPS) to appeal for a reduction in charges.

“She shared with us the circumstances leading to the accident and that she was regretful and intended to plead guilty,” he said.

On April 18 last year, Tang saw Dr Lam again at his MPS and said she would be charged in court on May 2.

Dr Lam said an appeal letter for leniency was given to her by hand on the same night in a sealed envelope, addressed “to whom it may concern” at the State Courts, as there was “some urgency” since the case would be mentioned in two weeks’ time.

The episode also gave rise to questions on whether MPs should write directly to the courts.

Two Straits Times Forum letters published yesterday questioned if MPs writing to the courts would blur the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.

Lawyers said MPs should be wary of sending criminal appeal letters to the courts.

“It may create certain impressions of bias, or attract unnecessary allegations,” said criminal lawyer Josephus Tan of Invictus Law, who has been volunteering at various PAP MPS sessions since 2013.

It is more appropriate to send such letters to the prosecuting agencies, he added.

Lawyer Amarick Gill of Amarick Gill LLC said accused persons should not think that a letter from an MP will have an impact on the charges they face or the sentence they will receive.

Mr Chan said the PAP has no specific governing rules on the sending of MP letters to the courts or other agencies.

Whom the MP’s letter is addressed to will depend on which stage the case is at and the nature of the request, he added.

Ten MPs whom The Sunday Times spoke to, including Jalan Besar GRC MP Heng Chee How, Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng and Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari, also said they usually refrain from writing to the courts, as they could be seen as overstepping their role.

When contacted, the Workers’ Party declined to comment on its protocol for MP letters.

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling said she usually avoids writing letters if the matter is before the courts.

“(I advise the residents that) the judiciary is independent, so none of us (MPs) has any right to influence or interfere,” she added.

She noted, however, that in some rare cases, residents who have to go to court for cases like non-payment of traffic fines may approach her for help as they may not be proficient in English.

“In those cases, we will clearly state that the resident has approached us to help to tell his story, and will be careful to not put the letter across as an appeal.”

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Intan Azura Mokhtar said she has to give residents the benefit of the doubt when she writes appeal letters on their behalf.

“MPS are all run by volunteers, and we don’t have the resources that a ministry, the courts or a lawyer would have to determine the facts of a case.”

SPH/ST

38 COMMENTS

  1. Why was that case an ‘urgent’ case? Was she going to be executed if she was found guilty by the Courts? Or did she come from a ‘good family’ and deserved another chance to practice her driving skills on other road users?

  2. So it was PAP’s Lam Pin Min who wrote the appeal letter to court for Tang Ling Lee that earned the presiding judge’s heavy criticism.

    But ST tried to twist and turn their news article to make it seem as if it wasn’t the fault of the MP. Even the ST headline was misleading.

    Has it been a WP MP who wrote the appeal letter, ST would have attacked WP in full force.

  3. Mps are elected to serve the people and not to bully the people that have voted for them. Why are these people so stupid and voted for him.
    Blame yourself of not using your vote wisely. Every 5 yrs is your chance to kick them out but you still vote for them. Are you all brain-dead.

  4. MPs are useless. Sometimes we go to them hopefully they can do something to change a policy which is obviously wrong, like for example IRAS exploiting businesses by making money from interests in PIC claw backs. They will just write a letter and refer you back to the same crook. And no, we did not exploit the system. Filed a claim based on the guidelines, case accepted, money released, government change their mind, change guidelines, claw back with interests.

    • Yes,waste of time asking them for help.I once ask for help to appeal due to housing issue,my missy mp wrote to hdb branch office at Tampines. Does any branch offices have the power to ban any rules?Even me as layman noe tt,how is it tt my mp don’t noe who to refer the appeal to???

  5. Useless guys! It’s like watching a “wayang” show! The prosecutor proposed and the judge just read the sentences! I don’t even know why we have court? Might as well save the building/lawyer/officials.. just sentence at the police station will do!

  6. I have 6 highly paid PAP MPs and I have never let alone see of even a whiff of them coming around to visit there voters who got them in. When you go see them after lining up for 2 hrs all they can do is exercise the neck muscles up and down and write something. Keep voting for these people you 70% peoples.

  7. Meet people session how many years liao? Why still the same since the last 50+- years? No better ways?

    So u see, when u are 1 party every damn thing just follow what old man used to do. So long every mth account got millions credited, why i bother so much. Tio bo?

  8. Honestly going to MPS or Meet-The-People Session especially in the PAP ward they are just useless and does not have an Impact at ALL, 1st and foremost the Civil-Servants of today are just as much as Useless too because the Follow-by-the Books and they have lost 2 factors namely Common Sense and a Sense of reponsibilities. They (Civil Servants) are just pushing Pen and Pushing Blames or avoiding answering the point because to them they are just collecting their payeither way they just DON’t Bother.

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