Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun on Tuesday submitted a Public Petition on the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill. The petition was signed by 249 Singaporeans. It is the first time in nine years that a Public Petition has been submitted to Parliament – the last petition was submitted by then-Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong in 2007 seeking a repeal of S377A of the Penal Code.
The Don’t Kena Contempt campaign welcomes efforts to protect the judiciary, and agrees that the integrity of legal proceedings and the maintenance of public confidence are essential. In particular, we welcome the sections that set out prohibitions on interferences with parties, witnesses and advocates, as well as insults or interruptions to court proceedings.
However, we are concerned that key provisions in the Bill – such as the definition and legal tests related to contempt of court – are vague and imposes punishment that is disproportionate for a non-violent offence. This will have a chilling effect on free speech and entrench Singapore’s culture of self censorship and fear even further. It will also discourage debate on issues of public interest which are important for democracy and public accountability.
“The bill, in its current form, causes confusion over what is or isn’t in contempt, and could lead to people choosing not to participate in legitimate discussion on matters of public interest, for fear of getting in trouble. The Ministry of Law says that the bill is merely a consolidation of current contempt law, but this could be a chance for Singapore to actually improve on current contempt law by crafting a bill based on extensive public education and consultation,” said Kirsten Han, a member of the Don’t Kena Contempt campaign.
We are hopeful that Parliament will refer the Bill to a Select Committee under Section 68 of the Parliamentary Standing Orders. This Select Committee should then resolve to hold public hearings permitted under Section 103(5) of the Parliamentary Standing Orders, so that the deliberation over ways to improve the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill can open to genuine and extensive public consultation.
Should Parliament form a Select Committee, the Speaker may direct the Clerk of Parliament to advertise an invitation for written representations regarding the Bill. We urge all interested parties – whether you belong to an organisation or would simply like to express your view as an individual – to do so.
“We believe in being active citizens who contribute to robust public discourse on Singapore’s policies. Like the submission of a Public Petition, participation in a Select Committee hearing is an integral part of the democratic process, and Singapore benefits when more people take up an active role in this process,” said member of the Don’t Kena Contempt campaign Lisa Li.
We strongly believe that broader consultation, greater openness, and more deliberation that leads to amendments to the language of the Bill where necessary will pave the way for a more robust law that better achieves the goals of consolidation and clarification when it passes. This ensures that the law better serves all Singaporeans.
The Don’t Kena Contempt campaign was set up by a group of Singaporeans concerned by both the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill in its current form, and the speed with which it is being put through Parliament to be passed into law. The campaign is calling for a delay in the passage of the bill, so that it can be properly debated, with extensive and thorough public education and consultation.
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