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Appeal Court rules that government is not a ‘Person’ to invoke Harassment Act

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Singapore’s Court of Appeal has ruled that the Singapore Government is not deemed as a “person” under the section 15 of the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). The ruling means that no government entity can press charges of harassment by any other individual or party in Singapore’s courts under the Protection from Harassment Act, which came into effect in 2013.

Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon was the dissenting voice in the split judgment delivered in the case between Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Dr Ting Choon Meng/The Online Citizen.

The legal test case contemplated if the Government can be considered a “Person” under the Protection from Harassment Act. The High Court had earlier ruled that the Government cannot use the Act against individuals and websites.

Parliament enacted the Act to protect people from harassment and stalking, and to provide remedies for victims of false statements.

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In a decision delivered on 9 Dec 2015, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon, overturned an earlier district court decision which had ruled in favour of the Government. The Government is not a “Person” for the purpose of the provision in the Act, and so cannot start legal actions against the appellants, the judicial commissioner ruled.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) acting for the Government had invoked the Act against Dr Ting Choon Meng (co-founder of medical device firm MobileStats Technologies), and the socio-political website, The Online Citizen (TOC).

MobileStats claimed that the Ministry of Defence had copied its concept of a mobile emergency medical station and sued the Government for patent infringement. TOC interviewed Dr Ting about the case, and posted it on their website.

Andrew Loh who was an editor at TOC when the Government decided to invoke the Act against the socio-political website, celebrated the Appeal Court’s decision as a victory for Singapore.

He said in a Facebook post that POHA is a good law meant to protect the vulnerable, and that it should not to be abused for political reasons to protect the government or a ministry.

“I can only hope the government will not now go back to Parliament to amend the law to its benefit,” Mr Loh added.

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