In his Ministerial Speech yesterday on Benjamin Lim’s death, Minister for Law and Home Affairs, Mr K Shanmugam, made the following comments regarding the Sub Judice principle:
“Once the Coroner announces his findings, both facts and conclusion, then people can offer their criticisms, viewpoints, comments on what the Police did, what my ministry did, or did not do. That is the official version of the facts, after people are cross-examined on the stand.
Sub Judice principles set out what can and cannot be said when a Court hearing or Inquiry, is pending. The various pronouncements, suggestions, statements which imply, allege that five officers interviewed him, that the Police intimidated, pressured Benjamin, into wrongly admitting to guilt. And that these must have been amongst the reasons why he probably committed suicide. These allegations possibly infringe the principles of Sub Judice, apart from being highly improper at this stage prior to the Coroner’s Inquiry. The Coroner decides on the scope of his Inquiry based on the Coroner’s Act. Some of these issues may be raised at or become relevant at the Inquiry. […]
The law is as follows: The Rules of Sub Judice generally preclude discussions which may prejudice proceedings but public officials like myself can make statements, if they believe it to be necessary in the public interest, even if there is a hearing pending.
I have myself commented on some occasions in the past, when a case is pending. When I have done so, I had carefully considered the legal position, and kept within the principles of Sub Judice. TOC and some others have ignored the pending Coroner’s inquiry, and have made wild allegations in this matter. It is in the public interest that we clarify the position. As to what happens to those people who have made those allegations, I would prefer not to comment today.”
TODAY, the broadsheet, interviewed the parents of Benjamin Lim today with regards to the Acting Education Minister (Schools), Ng Chee Meng’s Ministerial Statement on the death of the 14-year-old.
Mr Ng had said in his Speech that:
“The Principal also gave instructions to the school counsellor to give Benjamin’s mother a call on the same day to check on Benjamin’s well-being. […]
As such, when the school counsellor called Benjamin’s mother on the afternoon of 26 January to check on Benjamin’s well-being, the counsellor also raised with Benjamin’s mother if it would be better for Benjamin to remain with his family during this difficult period. His mother agreed and hence it was decided that Benjamin would stay at home.”
Mr Lim disputed the Education Minister’s version of events and reportedly said:
“When the school’s counsellor called Benjamin’s mother at 4.13pm, he merely informed her that the school had a meeting, and Benjamin will be excluded from the camp. Before the mother can ask any further questions, (he hung up),” Mr Lim said. “(In) the entire conversation … there were no questions asked about (Benjamin) at all … zero questions about (his) well-being.”
The newspaper also reported that it asked the Ministry of Education for comments on Mr Lim’s response and that a Ministry of Education’s spokesperson said:
“We empathise with Benjamin’s parents in their time of grief. The account given by the Minister in Parliament was based on the facts as we know them at this stage. As Benjamin’s death will be properly inquired into at the coming Coroner’s Inquiry, the ministry will not be making any further comments at this juncture.”
Was TODAY’s report in contempt of the Sub Judice principle?
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