Using power to give immunity to the powerful, part 2

The Attorney-General’s Chambers issued a press release yesterday (17 July 2012) in response to my post Using power to give immunity to the powerful which was published on 15 July.

The press release opens with a re-assertion of one of the two usual justifications for the law on scandalising the judiciary. It said: “Accusations of bias diminish it in the eyes of the citizen, lower it and ultimately damage the nation. Such accusations can occur frequently, with the judges not being able to respond. That is why confidence in the administration of justice needs to be protected from such allegations.”

I had dealt with this so-called justification right at the top of my earlier post as well as in its final quarter. Firstly, there is no reason why judges should not be able to respond, and secondly how does one distinguish between allegations and truth unless the initial assertions are allowed to be discussed further and aired? Sometimes, allegations eventually turn out to be true. To prohibit all allegations is to choke off any further discovery.

A more substantive point from the AGC was this:

A judge can be criticised, even fiercely criticised for getting the law or facts wrong, for getting the decision wrong or for imposing the wrong sentence. This is regularly done by lawyers, academics and lay persons. Such criticism is not contempt. There is no curtailment of free speech that would prevent such criticism. It is contempt however to say that the court was biased if there is no objective rational basis to do so, as Alex Au did.

Where the parties to a case do feel that a judge has committed misconduct, avenues are available to raise the issue, and have it determined within our Court system. Depending on the level of the Court, and the stage of the proceedings, possible avenues include appeal, criminal revision or motions to reopen decided cases. Although the reopening of a case is very rarely done, there will be reopening if it is shown that an injustice has been caused. Judges guilty of misconduct will be dealt with through various disciplinary mechanisms depending on whether they are district judges or Justices of the Supreme Court.

This part essentially says that the justice system has avenues within itself to correct its own faults. This is a solution only when a justice system has enough integrity to correct itself. However, it is entirely possible, within the realm of imagination surely, that a system may have become so damaged systemically that these avenues are no longer realistic and the ills of the system go beyond single judgements. At that point, it is free and open debate in society that will be key to highlighting the issues. Such discussion must necessarily begin with observations that are tentative and unproven, and in the public interest, generous leeway should be given to such fair comment.

Some of us may have read about police abuses in other countries. In some of these cases, the first response of the authorities is to let the police investigate the incident, but often when the allegations are of racial bias in policing, corruption that extends beyond a mere handful of officers or possibly political motives, there is usually a public outcry demanding an external inquiry. There isn’t enough public trust that the organisation or institution is capable of cleaning up itself. The same concerns could well apply to justice systems.

Especially when, as the AGC has said, public confidence in the administration of justice is crucial, then all the more we should avoid instituting a system that resembles leaving it to the guards to guard themselves, shutting out public discussion through use of the law itself.

The most curious reference was this:

We should note that Singapore is not alone in protecting the judiciary in this way. Other countries have similar laws on contempt.

We also note that Alex Au has made references to the announcements by Malaysia on its law on sedition. This is a non sequitor, of no relevance whatsoever to the subject at hand. Contempt has nothing to do with sedition.

Perhaps the AGC knew to keep this part mercifully short because they are acutely aware that they are on very weak ground?
Let me deal with the second point first.The AGC’s press release latched on to the mention of Malaysia’s Sedition Act when the point I was making in my earlier post was that even the prime minister of Malaysia recognises the legitimacy of freedom of expression when it comes to matters involving the administration of justice, and how he acknowledged that laws would need to be loosened up in this respect, albeit that details are still scanty at the moment.
More significantly, my earlier post dealt at length with the debate in the British parliament with several members of the House of Lords speaking up against any revival of this law. I also cited a news despatch that reported the UK prime minister agreeing with this point of view. Interestingly, the AGC’s response preferred to focus on a passing mention of Malaysia’s Sedition Act but totally ignored my discussion about the British debate.
As for “other countries”, as pointed out in a comment below the earlier post, which references, these are mostly ex-British colonies in Africa and the Pacific. The latter link contains the statement “The form of contempt of court known as ‘scandalising the court’ – defined as ‘any act done or writing published calculated to bring the court or a judge of the court into contempt or to lower his authority’ (R v. Gray, 1900) – has long been used by small African and Pacific Island states as a mechanism for silencing media criticism of the judicial process.”
The AGC would do well to note that those countries with well-known robust systems of justice do not rely on laws of scandalising the judiciary. The USA does not have such laws while in Britain, they are considered obsolescent and have not been used for over 80 years. In Canada the offence has been found incompatible with that country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If the AGC contends that our justice system can withstand as much scrutiny as those of the US, Canada and UK, why do we need such laws?
Suppose, for argument’s sake, someone has noticed what looks like racial bias in sentencing. He has observed over X number of cases of a similar offence, that accused persons of a particular race get heavier sentences. No doubt the exact sentence meted out in each case depends on the specific facts of the case and there will necessarily be variation. But if this person writes that in his view, the specific circumstances are insufficient to explain the variation in sentencing, and that there is a correlation with the race of the offender, one can well imagine the poor guy being hauled to court for scandalising the judiciary. He can be accused of insinuating racial bias in judges, and his defence must rest on being able to prove it. How is he going to prove it? All he has is a statistical oddity over a limited number of cases, which the prosecution, if generous, might say that it is no more than suggestive, certainly not proof.  So he stands guilty and can go to jail. The prosecution then trumpets that so-and-so has engaged in falsehoods because the court found it false. Therefore there is no racial bias.
But where lies the public interest? In shutting down that conversation? In instilling in people the self-censorship never to voice similar doubts about impartiality?  Or in allowing such doubts to be aired, and to heighten awareness of this possible bias so as to minimise its recurrence?
On a slight tangent, imagine if a media organisation in one of these African or Pacific Island states were interested in seeing how the public viewed their own country’s justice system, including their opinion of the independence of the judiciary. Ordinarily, they would commission an opinion poll. But on this topic, they would be acutely conscious of the extreme sensitivity of the law enforcers. It doesn’t take much to be able to foresee that such a media organisation might be tied up in knots wondering how to craft poll questions, or later, how to write up the results of the survey, in a way that would effectively get to a true reading of public opinion without falling foul of this restrictive law.  Surely this thought exercise would reveal to us how much conflict there is between the freedom of expression, which is any citizen’s right, and the draconian, preemptive nature of such a law. Undeniably, this law has a chilling effect on speech, but more seriously, as I argued in my previous article, the immunity it accords the judiciary from public scrutiny poses a risk of debasement of that very institution complacent behind a protective wall.

54 Responses to “Using power to give immunity to the powerful, part 2”

  1. 1 Desmond 18 July 2012 at 10:46

    I really wonder if the judicial knows the *real sentiments* of Singaporeans in regards to our judicial system.

    This is so akin to the question people are still asking our gahmen, “do you know what the people really think of you?”.

    • 2 eek 18 July 2012 at 15:52

      It hardly matters to them. They are self-proclaimed just and neutral, just as the PA is apolitical.

  2. 3 Chanel 18 July 2012 at 11:13

    “A judge can be criticised…..for getting the law or facts wrong, for getting the decision wrong or for imposing the wrong sentence……..Such criticism is not contempt.” — AGC

    The above is highly illogical. Who has the right to determine whether a court decision is “wrong”? When people can’t even talk about court ruling and sentencing without risking being in contempt, how can we uncover wrong judge’s decision or sentencing?? Is AGC going to highlight for us the court cases that could potentially involve faulty judge’s decision/sentencing for the people to talk about??

    Let’s take Woffles Wu’s case as an example. People are merely questioning why a more suitable legal provision was not used to convict him. Isn’t this a legitimate question??

  3. 4 yuen 18 July 2012 at 11:28

    what Singapore needs is an ombudsman; right now, very serious abuses of power can be reported to CPIB or CAD, but lessor abuses are basically investigated by the same units in which the issues arose; whether the matter was raised directly with it, or indirectly by speaking to journalists or posting on blogs

    SPH has actually played something of an ombudsman role, with some complaints published in its Forum Letters section (hard copy or online), and it was the reporting of a journalist that eventually changed NKF; this is however a hit or miss kind of system

  4. 5 me 18 July 2012 at 13:13

    “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech; which is the right of every man as far as by it he does not hurt or control the right of another; and this is the only check it ought to suffer and the only bounds it ought to know.”

    – Benjamin Franklin

  5. 6 GG 18 July 2012 at 13:15

    Hi There, I’ve been following your essays for awhile now and thoroughly enjoyed reading them. I dont see anything wrong with what you wrote. The issue is, we the citizens aren’t allowed to think and worse still, voice our opinions. JUST IN CASE it incites something bad. Any negativity about the government is not allowed. Except that they don’t realise that we are no longer at that age and time where we think the ruling party is fantastic.
    I could go on and on but the disappointments in singapore are making me weary. So i shall stop here.

  6. 7 Duh 18 July 2012 at 13:34

    Personally, I find AGC’s arguments weak and perfunctory. Reasons like – courts of law should be protected for its integrity’s sake and the legal system has internal self-correcting mechanisms are fallacious reasons. I see no reason why the legal system in Singapore should be free from critical analysis with or without firm empirical proof. As Mr Au has pointed out, critical analysis is done when *there is reason to believe* that something is true and warrants further investigation – an attempt by the AGC to stem this is to exert an authoritarian and dictatorial ‘legal’ stance on this matter. So AGC should ask itself – WHAT exactly is achieved here by having Mr Au retract his statements and apologising? Creating more attention to his post? Would not a better approach be to engage in this discussion to clarify matters? But seeing AGC’s weak rebuttals seems to suggest that they can’t which further highlights Mr Au’s case. This is typical of an authoritarian regime – people in power become so acustomed to a dictatorial form of governance that they ceased to know how to provide good reasons for their actions because basically, there are none; it was merely the case of we (the people in power) wanted it.

  7. 9 Tan Tai Wei 18 July 2012 at 13:56

    The AG’s reply to yours impressed me thus. He says that criticism of judges is allowed if it is “proven”. Obviously, he can’t mean “proven”, for surely the judiciary would always insist on the right to answer, which means criticisms that are allowed cannot be taken to be proven as yet. So, he must mean to differentiate between 1)considered, but as yet not necessarily proven criticisms, that offer leads worthy of following up (like the worthy “hypotheses” in science you mentioned), from 2)say, frivolous ones without even initial merit, which should therefore, like any old mooting of purported scientific conjectures, be ignored. But those of us who have read your postings know it isn’t characteristic of you to moot conjectures of these sorts!

  8. 10 AT 18 July 2012 at 14:10

    One wish I have for Singapore this coming birthday though there is little to celebrate, given the spate of recent disgraceful events from Ferrari crash to Bugis crash (all in the same vicinity!) and state of society, is to have more politicians and other so called important members of society to exericise more self reflection, very much like what he is writing now.

    Only when we have a progressive society with more checks and balances of core institutions and cast off draconian outdated oppressive acts of bullying the citizens, drafted with colonial prejudice past, then is there real cause for celebration.

  9. 11 quemquemquem 18 July 2012 at 14:16

    I left this comment on Bertha Henson’s blog, and since her comment publishing policy is similar to the ST’s, I’d like to copy it here.

    Why can’t we question the integrity of the courts? It is funny how in the United States, everyone has the free reign to question anybody else’s integrity (including the president and the Supreme Court), and if anything the judiciary is still the strongest and most trusted of the main branches of government. I was quite encouraged to see our local Supreme Court throw out the AGC’s appeal to clarify the constitutional gap in the calling of by-elections.

    Alex Au’s analysis is flawed, as you said. Well, I don’t blame him for getting some things wrong in the heat of the moment. But you don’t earn anyone’s respect by your blanket approval of the status quo. You don’t have to accept it. But I guess you do, otherwise you wouldn’t have been employed by SPH for all those years.

    It is not us, as “the people”, who are beholden to any particular organ of the state, and in any case we already have to accept the written rule of law where it applies to criminal activity.

  10. 12 georgia tong 18 July 2012 at 14:33

    Well argue and written. Alex must have touch a raw nerve with truth. Many of us share your view. Thanks for the good work.

  11. 13 The Pariah 18 July 2012 at 15:11

    Good stuff, Alex. Judges apparently are not supposed to read blogs and internet articles in case these colour their perspectives in making judgements. In that case, judges shouldn’t read newspapers either, eh?

    I know Themis is blindfolded as she holds a sword in one hand and a balanced weighing scale in the other hand – but that doesn’t mean Themis exists in a void and out of touch with ground realities, eh?

  12. 14 oute 18 July 2012 at 15:27

    keep it up, we are behind you.

  13. 15 B_Tiger 18 July 2012 at 15:28

    Alex, though I do not totally agree with your previous “Woffles Wu case hits a nerve” views I applaud you for the balls to blog your beliefs when other bloggers stayed on the quiet. So I was a bit disappointed that you took that article down with apology under pressure from AGC, and that the discussion ended – or so I thought.

    But now with this new essay you have proven to us that you are an intellectual worth your salt and not just an easy pushover. This time you totally won me over. I totally concur with your argument. This is what freedom of speech should be – the educational discussion and the exchange of ideas and info. Please continue blogging for the love of our same country. You are a great read. Thank you.

    • 16 navydog 18 July 2012 at 22:28

      I think there was someone else commenting who wanted Alex to fight to the death and refuse to take down any post (except that that someone wrote his comment behind a pseudonym — like me).

      Actually, I think Alex is playing this much smarter than some ppl give him credit for.

      The first thing to recognise is that opposing the PAP, whether from opposition party or civil society is a David vs Goliath contest. That means one must choose the battle and not take up every challenge the bully throws at you. It’s a guerilla strategy, sometimes retreat, sometimes advance when it’s more favorable. The second thing is that time is on the anti-PAP side, as a new generation comes along, so its important to survive to fight another day. To be so gungho about picking up every challenge is exactly what the PAP wants, that way you die young and cannot benefit from the passage of time.

  14. 17 eek 18 July 2012 at 15:53

    Mate, still waiting for you to reveal what are the ‘misrepresented facts’ that the AGC alleged you make. Are you going to keep silent on it?

    • 18 octopi 18 July 2012 at 21:35

      Duh – those “misrepresented facts” are precisely the material that the AGC wanted taken down. In effect the AGC is rebutting points that are no longer available for the public to read and decide for themselves. Duh.

    • 19 navydog 18 July 2012 at 22:22

      Are you a troll? Are you asking Alex to restate what the AGC is going to charge him for?

  15. 20 Wil Wilkins 18 July 2012 at 16:16

    “He can be accused of insinuating racial bias in judges, and his defence must rest on being able to prove it. How is he going to prove it? All he has is a statistical oddity over a limited number of cases, which the prosecution, if generous, might say that it is no more than suggestive, certainly not proof.”

    Hi Alex, as far as I understand, the test is that of an objective rational basis. It seems that a statistical study could surmount that threshold.

    However, the criticism in your post focused on the charges pressed by the AGC, which does not seem to support your passing mention of judicial bias. You did not seem to have any data which showed that there was a trend of awarding, e.g., lower fines to richer defendants.

    I humbly submit that you should consider the approach in this note, which I wrote.

  16. 21 AGC Boleh!! 18 July 2012 at 16:21

    Hi Alex, may I suggest that you send this reply (and your earlier reply to AGC) to all the MSM, and see which editor dares to publish your arguments in full. Bring the game into their court. Keep us updated in this blog on whether any of MSM dares to print your reply in full.

    If none of the MSM dares to even print your reply in full for the rest of Singapore to read, then all the more people can see how one sided our so-called MSM are. It will also confirms that your argument is correct and indeed is touching on a raw nerve somewhere very high up. Keep chipping away at the armour, every small nicks add up.

  17. 22 Rumpole of the Bailey 18 July 2012 at 16:58

    The Case of the Sleeping Judge

    It has been reported in the National, a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, that a judge (originally from Singapore, a place that some have called “the Little Red Dot” and others a police state) was caught sleeping while hearing a case before him.

    Nakheel, the developer behind the Palm Jumeirah (a premier resort in the form of an artificial archipelago off the coast of Dubai), had on 11th July demanded a retrial in a US$15.5 million case in the Dubai World Tribunal on the ground that one of the judges, a certain Michael Hwang hailing from Singapore was falling asleep during proceedings.

    The incident took place on 9th May at a hearing into a dispute between Nakheel and an investor in the project. Clifford Chance, one of the world’s leading law firms with 34 offices in 24 countries and some 3,200 lawyers, requested a video of the proceedings 11 days later and made an application for a retrial 25 days after the incident. Chief Justice Michael Hwang was accused of nodding off for six minutes and drowsy for about 40 minutes before finally succumbing to the inevitable.

    The barrister for Nakheel, David Thomas QC argued that anything short of a retrial would damage public confidence in the judicial system of Dubai and would be unfair to all parties involved.

    The Chief Justice of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts and chairman of the Dubai World Tribunal, Sir Anthony Evans, conceded that there had been a “breach of duty” and that Michael Hwang “gave the impression of being inattentive”. However, the application was dismissed on the grounds that evidence produced during the six-minute period when the judge was “inattentive” or in slumberland was not relevant to the case.

    So who is this Michael Hwang and how is it relevant to Singapore?

    Well, he was a Judicial Commissioner (“JC”) of the Supreme Court of Singapore for a fixed term from 1991 to 1992. It is claimed that a JC is the equivalent of a High Court judge. However, in all truly FIRST WORLD countries, a High Court judge or equivalent has what is called “security of tenure” i.e. once duly appointed, he cannot be removed unless there are good grounds such as dereliction of duty. If you want to continue to be appointed as a JC after your initial term of 2 years, would you be making those kinds of judicial decisions which you know would not find favour with the Executive branch which decides whether or not your appointment is going to be renewed?

    Michael Hwang was called to the Singapore Bar in 1968, joined Allen & Gledhill and became a partner in 1972 and retired from that firm at the end of 2002 after serving as Head of its Litigation and Arbitration Department for 10 years. These are facts which can be found from his personal website at

    In the context of what has been happening in Singapore’s own Courts lately, most ordinary citizens would instinctively know that this piece of news about a judge hailing from Singapore falling asleep while hearing a case in Dubai is relevant. Recent happenings in our backyard shining an unwelcome spotlight on our own judicial system include:

    – A plastic surgeon fined a mere $1,000 for asking an old and vulnerable employee to take the rap for a speeding offence not once but twice

    – Counsel for the applicant in a case of potentially great constitutional significance (i.e. whether the Prime Minister has absolute discretion as to whether or not to call a by-election) has been subject to a form of character assassination in a bid to prevent him from continuing to act in this and other pending cases

    – The Attorney General’s Chambers invoking an archaic law known as the offence of “scandalising the courts” to cause a blogger to issue an apology and remove an offending article which has accused the courts here of being biased, to which we may add that the blogger was merely expressing a perception which is widely held

    It is also relevant in that there has been disquiet over public figures holding too many directorships and other “honorary” posts that they don’t really have the time to do anything well hence such debacles and fiascos like the MRT breakdowns, government agencies pointing fingers at each other, etc. Some are even speculating that this may be the reason why less than a quarter of Parliamentarians were present for a session of the House at which important bills were to be passed causing the passage of these legislation to be delayed due to the lack of a quorum.

    Well, our dear Michael says on his own website that besides his appointment in the Dubai Courts, he is currently a director of YTL Pacific Management Reit Ltd, the manager of Starhill Global REIT (a listed Real Estate Investment Trust in Singapore) AND:

    1) Chairman of the Singapore Dance Theatre Limited (a non-profit public company)
    2) Chairman of the Appeals Committee of the Singapore Stock Exchange
    3) Board member of the Board of Legal Education (a statutory agency)
    4) Fellow of the Singapore Institute of Directors
    5) Member of the Supervisory Committee of the Asian Bond Fund (ABF) Singapore Bond Index Fund
    6) Member of the Ethics Committee of the Public Accountants Oversight Committee

    Since the Law Society has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, it is worth pointing out that Michael Hwang was President of the Law Society in 2007.

    Perhaps, the man should shed some of his numerous public posts and focus on just one or two. Sleeping on the job, physically or metaphorically, does not endear you to the enlightened masses, be it in Singapore or Dubai or Timbuktu, especially if the job involves the discharge of an important public function such as the administration of justice.

    Rumpole of the Bailey
    * Rumpole is the main character in a British TV series about an ageing London barrister who defends any and all clients (see for more info). The author, who is an NUS law grad living and working abroad, chose this moniker to encourage an interest in legal issues because it does not just affect lawyers and their clients. The everyday layman needs to be informed of his rights and obligations and in the context of the “Little Red Dot” to avoid being talked down to or misled by their highly paid Ministers, including those that don’t have any portfolio, or civil servants with bad attitude and poor knowledge of the laws which they are supposed to be enforcing.

  18. 23 Alan 18 July 2012 at 17:32

    I would have thought that a mere rebuttal from AGC’s should suffice if they do not see eye to eye with any of Alex’s points of argument. Surely the AGC is capable to put up a strong rebuttal, no ?

    But in this case, is there a real need to threaten to sue the blogger if he doesn’t apologise within 7 days ? When we are talking about the AGC which is supposed to representing the Government as well, I’m sure it doesn’t augur well for the Govt to act like a big bully, no ?

    Looks like they are attempting to say if the blogger do eventually aplogise, then there will be no contempt of court. But contempt of court should it be initiated by a concerned judge in the first place ?

  19. 24 swh 18 July 2012 at 17:58

    Two things I would like to address in this post: 1. Comparisons with other countries’ judicial systems and 2. cost-benefit analysis of which system is better.

    1. Much comparison has been made in your two posts with regard to the lack of such a law in other countries like the US, UK etc. due to their supposedly robust judicial systems. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these countries utilize a jury system in their courts, as opposed to our practice of using individual judges. The people selected for passing of judgment is randomized, and the fate of the accused is decided based on the votes of the selected individuals. As such, it is up to them to decide what is the right/wrong judgment to pass and, as much as they would like to remain objective, subjectivity may get in the way of their verdicts. Even if not, their ruling may be of an especially unpopular public stance, such as in the Casey Anthony incident, which triggered a huge public uproar.

    The point I’m trying to make is this: Even though our judicial systems differ, either way, judges/juries have to act based on the available evidence and give a verdict – no matter how much the public believed that Anthony should have been convicted, the verdict of Not Guilty still had to be passed due to the supposed insufficient evidence. In scenarios such as this one, how could you be sure that the public eye is one good enough and sufficient for the deliverance of fair verdicts – that despite prevailing emotional sentiments amongst the masses, that (painful) verdicts will be passed based on an objective, emotionless stance?

    2. Let’s analyse the status quo given now by the AGC versus your proposal.

    AGC already mentioned that there are self-regulating checks within the internal system, of which you replied that “there isn’t enough public trust that the organisation or institution is capable of cleaning up itself. The same concerns could well apply to justice systems.” You utilized the word “could” there because I think you know well that, on a general level, our justice system is mostly reliable as an instrument to deliver fair trials and that most people have trust in Singapore’s justice system anyway. The example you cited of police corruption and tainting of the courts apply in other countries, in severe cases, whereby people have no faith in their judicial systems.

    If we take a look at recent years, I don’t think that there have been a significant number of cases of alleged unfair verdicts complaints that have been lodged against our high court. This shows that as far as Singapore is concerned, our justice system is held to a high standard already.

    Now, on to your proposal, allow me to put out some flaws in it that I hope you could address:

    a) If we can fault the judiciary at random and allow as per your proposal, like I mentioned before in my previous post in the last thread, there is a real concern of a witch hunt. You mentioned an example of police exacting racial bias. This is highly debatable – for instance, it could be your word that there is racial bias going on versus my word that, oh well, people of a certain race do tend to commit this type of crime more. Now, the thing is, the same set of statistics such as the hypothetical one cited in your example can be interpreted in one or more ways. Similarly, statistics can be forged literally out of thin air – if one is bent on defaming the judiciary to pass a verdict in his favour, he could dig up the history books and pick up various court cases to form his own pattern or stats.

    How do you prevent such incidences from happening? The current solution under status quo for the judges is their rice bowl, reputation, and a possibility of a jail sentence for passing verdicts in an unbiased manner. Under your proposal of “generous leeway should be given to such fair comment”, however, what is there to deter people from making false accusations? If there were grounds for real criticisms, there should be (i) sufficient concrete evidence to make a proper case and (II) mass public indignation of a criticism being unaddressed. Either, or both, of these factors should be enough for someone to bravely make a case against the high court without fear that he’ll be counter-sued.

    b) With the removal of this law, you risk mob justice. Under the social contract, we place trust in the justice system that they would uphold and restore public order in the cases where crimes are committed, and objective and suited punishments are meted out. That’s why we don’t stab our neighbour if he kills our family. That’s why we don’t take justice into our own hands. Refer back to the Casey Anthony incident, the book of law clearly states that ‘one is innocent till proven guilty’, and that unfortunately despite prevailing public sentiment, the correct decision to make was to release Anthony free.

    Under your proposal, justice becomes a “boo-hurray” subjectivity which lies in the decision making process of the public. People like Anthony would be hanged simply because the media portrays her in a bad light or simply because the public hate her. We cannot allow Singapore to degenerate into mob rule, swayed by the convictions of what the majority of the public believes to be right or wrong, and I personally feel your proposal may lead to that.

    Hence, what would your suggestions be to mitigate these possible consequences? Considering that their harms which may be brought about may outweigh whatever benefits that could be put on the table.

  20. 25 TAP 18 July 2012 at 19:33

    The irony is the AGC’s reaction damaged the reputation of the judicial system rather than Alex’s article in my eyes. Simultaneously Alex’s reputation has grown a few folds.


  21. 26 Png Kiok Khng 18 July 2012 at 19:43

    I am quite confuse about Alex’s contempt of court case on 2 fronts:

    1. Is the AGC the court? It seems the original article that triggered AGC’s response in sending their lawyer’s letter is with regards to how AGC decides to prosecute certain cases. At best, it would be a contempt of the AGC.

    2. On the AGC’s response to part 1 of this article, they have stated “Where the parties to a case do feel that a judge has committed misconduct, avenues are available to raise the issue, and have it determined within our Court system.” It seems to suggest that only AGC and the defendant has the right to response to the judges’ verdict. Is the AGC trying to say that in the cases like that of Dr Woffles Wu, the AGC has the will to revisit the charges brought before the court after verdict was passed or Dr Wu (or defendants in general) has the will to protest against being let off easily?

    Anyone care to clarify on the confusion above?

    • 27 Robox 18 July 2012 at 22:50

      “Is the AGC the court?”

      The comment by “loincover” here appears to be an informed one. [Alex, this is just as much for you.]

      1. “The AGC is not the Court. The Prosecution’s (DPP) role is different from the Court. Both are completely different in powers and jurisdiction.

      But here is the part I found interesting:

      2. “The decision as to whether or not there is contempt does not rest with the DPP. It is the Court that decides. Simply put, it is the contempt of “Court” and not contempt of “the Prosecution”. The latter does not exist. Therefore it is not for the AGC to decide if there was, in fact, a contempt.”

      And even while I am taking this out of context…

      3. “Alex Au’s error was not to have understood the separation of powers between the AGC and the Court.”

    • 28 Robox 19 July 2012 at 02:32

      After some mulling over, I decided to follow up on my reply to Png Kiok Khng above, in particular with regards to the statement by “loincover” I cited: “Alex Au’s error was not to have understood the separation of powers between the AGC and the Court.”

      If the AGC is not the Court, then does it in the first place have the authority to make any ruling that Alex Au has committed contempt of court, and then require him to issue an apology (which, I assume they would regard as “official” and for something that he has not been found guilty of in any court of law)?

      Is Alex Au even legally obliged to issue any apology?

      Or do we have – for the billionth time – another case of the authorities exceeding their powers?

      (Of course, Alex, I do recognize that any letter that the AGC issued to you requiring you to apologize for what is really a statement they FELT sleighted by – though that’s not to say that such statements are neither representative facts or of reality – should be treated as a threat of legal proccedings against you.)

      This somehow reminds me so much of when Rachel Zeng, Seelan Palay and Jarrod Luo were hauled into the police to be investigated for “defamation” for promoting the sale of Alan Shadrake’s Jolly Hangman when Shadrake was convicted not for defamation but for contempt of court. While the three were let off with no charges laid against them, the incident nevertheless reeked badly – as it does now in this matter – of conduct instigated by individuals completely devoid – nay, INCAPABLE – of clarity of thought.

      It is the thought and conduct that represents the very essence of the unprofessionalism of the PAP itself and reflected in the agencies in its charge.

  22. 29 Valentino Romanis 18 July 2012 at 21:19

    Mr Au, I have been slightly amused by this back and forth thing, between you and the courts. May I add my own observations?

    Firstly I fully agree with you that the whole Woffles saga has hit a raw nerve with many people. I confess I did not read much about what you wrote then and the subsequently apology demanded by the AGC.

    I however can understand your frustrations with the latest posts and your call for a more ‘open’ (for want of a better word) judiciary that is subject to scrutiny by the people they are sworn to protect.

    But the point I want to make here, is that I feel that too much blame is put on the judiciary in instances where perhaps the appearance of justice is not served. I think there is this famous maxim, Justice must not only be served but seen to be served.

    However I feel that by and large our High Court is filled by judges of the highest quality. Justices like Judith Prasad, VK Rajah, CJ Chan, JA Menon and others have sterling qualifications, as have some of their predecessors like JC Amarjit, GP Selvam, S Rajendran, TQ Lim, JA Joe Grimberg (in my opinion our best ever lawyer/judge) amongst others. In fact I think Steven Chong, like Walter Woon and S Menon before him, is really a superb choice as our AG.

    What links all these men and women? I am no lawyer or have no legal training per se, but I have followed and read many judgments by them. I find that these judgments were fair, robust and open to scrutiny (which would prove their soundness). I strongly believe that these judges of the High Court, the current ones especially, are men and women of honour who will only judge the cases before them based on their merits. I doubt that they will be influenced by other forces and compelled to rule in certain ways. Or that they operate from some form of ‘self fear’ in ensuring that their rulings and judgments will not ruffle the feathers of those in power.

    I know that there is some disquiet about cases of a political nature, especially by opposition members, however I want to focus today entirely on routine criminal and civil matters involving ordinary citizens like you and me. I think in virtually all cases, the interests of justice has been served by these judges. Yes there have been some mistakes in application of law but these have routinely been corrected by the Appellate Courts.

    As for the Sub Courts (from which the Woffles case stems from), I acknowledge that perhaps the quality of judgments and sentencing has not been on par with the High Court. But this is to be expected from a lower court, and it is the duty of the public (usually represent by the AG/PP) and defense lawyers to raise these wrongs in the appropriate appellate court – The High Court, and let the High Court correct them or give directions.

    Personally i feel that too many Sub Court judges stem from the Legal Service Division of the Civil services – many are former DPPs or state counsels and representatives, hence the tendency to lean with the prosecution ( I am of course, only assuming this). There should be an equal balance of judges I feel from private practice as is the case with High Court judges. The natural assumption here, is that if you take judges mainly from 1 source, their rulings might limited to what they have witnessed or done in their previous jobs, as what i infer with by former DPPs and the like. Having defense lawyers and others from different fields of law, will expose and extend the scope and make a more open and robust Sub Court I feel.

    Now what I disagree with you is the direction of your disagreement. I feel that you have wrongly focused only on the Courts and judges to be specific. For better or worse, our Laws and system of Law here is what it is, we have mandatory sentencing, the police are given certain powers to search, record statements etc, Judges here are compelled (as is the case elsewhere) to operate within the boundaries that parliament sets in making the respective laws. I know many instances where High Court judges are against the death penalty, or really hate imposing them, but are compelled by Law to impose them.

    Similarly in the Woffles case and many others, judges can only impose sentences that available to them, stemming from the charges the accused faces. This is prescribed by law. The judge can only reach his verdict by what is presented in court, and is bound by law to accept or reject evidence that Law has prescribed as available to them to judge on.
    If all the proper procedure prescribed by law has been met, the judge is bound by law to accept them. He cannot arbitrarily reject them if he has no grounds in law to do so.

    So I feel your focus as to what is right or wrong, should be instead placed on the 2 parties responsible for the Law. Parliament in making Laws as what they are and more importantly the the AGC, in choosing or determining the charges. If the prosecution has decided to charge Woffles under a lesser law, then the judge can only sentence him on the charge that he is facing and convicted of. If the prosecution decides to charge 1 drug trafficker with a capital charge and his more ‘involved’ accomplice with a lesser charge, the judge is duty bound to sentence the former to death and the latter to life imprisonment or lesser, if he finds they are both guilty.

    Whether this is fair or not, no fault can be attached to the judge. That is solely the province of the AG as Public Prosecutor (through his DPPs) to decide on the strength of the charge. Even with any charge, if the defense raises some issues in mitigation, and the DPP does not oppose, judges will usually impose a lesser sentence based on that unchallenged mitigation. So you can have 2 similar cases, with differing sentences (based on 2 accused with similar or no past convictions). It all stems from what is produced, challenged or raised in court.

    In closing, I think you and hopefully others can call for a system where prosecutions can be more consistent, open and subject to scrutiny. Perhaps as some have suggested a separation of powers by the AG and the PP, or having as they do in other jurisdictions, a special prosecutor (from private practise) to prosecute or decide to prosecute certain cases that appear to be controversial or in the public interest to do so.

    • 30 yawningbread 18 July 2012 at 22:35

      You wrote: “I know that there is some disquiet about cases of a political nature, especially by opposition members, however I want to focus today entirely on routine criminal and civil matters involving ordinary citizens like you and me.

      Would you care to explain why you are choosing to separate and ignore cases of a political nature? Is it because you fear they might complicate the conclusion that you’re trying to draw?

      • 31 artemov 18 July 2012 at 22:52

        When it comes to “routine criminal and civil matters involving ordinary citizens like you and me”, our law is known to be firm and harsh. You appeal I will increase your punishment! But this is not what we are concerned with, are we?

      • 32 Valentino Romanis 19 July 2012 at 00:14

        I find it amusing that you have chosen only to cherry pick that passage in your reply, and not comment about the rest. In fact you have not expressed anything, whether you and or disagree.

        But I am not writing today, to debunk your argument, express disappointment at you, deny your right of expression or whatever negative connotation.
        In fact it takes a certain degree of courage to write openly as you have against an institution and be subject to scrutiny.

        Why have I omitted the references to political lawsuits and the like? No, doing so would not complicate any conclusion I have inferred or drawn. Let’s look at it this way, style of politics like religion is something that will always have a divide between people. Eg in the US, you get Republicans who will always find something criticise the Democrats and vice-versa. Take the recent ‘Obamacare’ issue before the US Supreme Court, even with a conservative Chief Justice siding with the left in this case, some if not many Republicans cannot accept the verdict. Similarly in the CHC case, you have some staunch supporters refusing to accept the charges. They will never accept or believe the charges, let alone a conviction. The only verdict they will accept is not guilty.

        So no matter what a judge rules in case involving opposing political parties in Singapore, you will find a vast majority of supporters not prepared to accept a verdict that is against their party.. In Singapore terms, it’s the PAP v the rest, and why I omitted it, because obviously almost all, if not every, has not gone in the opposition’s favour (I don’t have the data, but that’s a fair assumption right?)

        So unlike a criminal or civil case, where you can draw support across all spectrums of society, who will accept the verdict, you’ll won’t find the same broad based acceptance in ‘political’ cases. Woffles is a example, you find both opposing and ruling party members finding common ground in disagreeing with the sentence imposed. Or in case of rape for example, you’ll find the same level of support for harsh punishment for the offender. No one is gonna question the judge if he imposes a harsh sentence, or even if he acquits the accused based on the evidence presented.

        To go into a debate about political cases, I felt would deflect my point that the Courts should not bear the brunt of criticism if and when an unpopular verdict is delivered based on the charges and evidence adduced in court. That criticism should be placed or directed at the prosecution or the Law makers (if they made a lenient/harsh law).

        To talk about political cases, I felt would require a lot of cross-referencing to all past judgments and the need to scrutinise each and every one again. It would be time consuming and change the whole topic, I felt for this argument about judiciary and sentencing.

        But just to state my view, in case you or others have the impression that I’m saying the High Court here are not fully fair, free from interference etc, because of the omission of political cases. That is not my view. Again I have read many judgments involving such cases, and I while I disagree with the verdict in some cases, I also agree with the judgments in others. But I am not convinced also that there is evidence of bias on the judges part.
        True they have ruled against opposition members, but I feel that many times, their hands again is tied by what the Law in Singapore is. In some cases, procedure was not followed ( eg: the TBT case by the SDP). The SDP members did not apply for a permit to begin with (although they knew it was gonna be rejected anyway). The Law prescribed that a permit must be sought or applied. So how could the judge acquit them to begin? If they had applied and it got rejected then they appealed or even went about their business, then maybe the Court could consider it. But no permit application, when the Law clearly requires it, how is the judge supposed to react? Is it his fault that the Law is unfair and very strict? There are many other such instances, when they verdicts would inevitably be a foregone conclusion based on the Law or charges, because of a key failure to fulfill a requirement under law.

        That is why I said let’s only look at normal criminal and civil cases. But I accept that you, like me and everyone else has a right to disagree with the Court’s verdict (especially in political cases), but we must all accept the verdict.
        Any disagreement of verdicts and sometimes sentences, must be placed at the door of the AG (in determining the charges), the lawmakers (for prescribing such laws and it’s guidelines) and even sometimes on defense counsel for not arguing their client’s cases properly.
        This not an area where the judiciary should become party to, or face criticisms for.

        Of course, if a judge imposed a wrong sentence or ignored crucial evidence that the Law allows him to consider, than he can be criticised and an appeal must be made.

      • 33 Anon 4155 19 July 2012 at 01:21

        I have full faith in our courts on commercial matters (which is why Singapore judiciary is ranked so highly internationally) and non-political matters.

        On the latter (I’ll be careful with my words here), the court’s standing … eh hem .. appeared to be (censored) .. by the recent Woffles Wu case. It would be good if the court can clarify : “you can get away with (an obvious infringement) … if you (exceptional circumstances) … “, then the public will know what are the exceptional circumstances that allow you to get away with an obvious infringement. For eg, choose someone over 70 years old to admit to the infringement, do not get caught for the first five years, no need to show any remorse etc.

        On politcal matters, I cannot give my opinion here as it may scandalise the courts. Is this acceptable language, or even this is scandalising the courts ??

  23. 34 Eu En 18 July 2012 at 22:08

    So what’s new? These lawyers, bankers, diplomats, ministers, MPs have had such a great time in Singapore, a carte blanche and they want the party to continue for as long as they’re having fun and getting super rich with no one to question any of their decisions. Hello AG chambers, wake up. Look at toxic banks and the banking crises, what’s a little scrutiny compared with a complete loss of confidence in institutions when its too late and scandals exposed later? And what’s with the press releases? Show yourselves to the people of Singapore whom you serve (remember that) and stop hiding behind yesterday’s press releases.

  24. 35 Emily 18 July 2012 at 22:23

    All this spinning is obviously making you dizzy. The AGC said it has no problem with criticism against the court (which routinely happens), but criticisms based on false allegations. You apologise for misleading the public. Are you now saying you did not make any false allegations? If so, why did you apologise? Or are you saying it should be ok to criticise based on false allegations as that advances genuine debate? Be clear, please.

    You then go on to discuss hypothetical instances of what could happen. Why rely on hypotheticals? If you believe that there has been miscarriages of justices in Singapore, and this somehow evidences a rot in the system, why not just cite the actual cases to back up your view?

    • 36 yawningbread 18 July 2012 at 22:42

      There are two separate issues. I apologised because I crossed the line on scandalising the court. It still stands. But the last 2 articles were arguments why the line is a bad, misplaced line, and why it should be removed.

      It’s no different from between wrong when you drive at 70 kmh in a city where the speed limit is uniformly 10 kmh. You’re definitely wrong but you can still argue against the stupidity of having a 10 kmh speed limit.

      • 37 Emily 20 July 2012 at 10:35

        But don’t you think it is wrong to mount an argument based on false allegations? Using your analogy (which is a rather poor one), you may think driving at 10kmh is stupid, but does that mean you should argue for a 70kmh limit when that is risky?

        If you think it is wrong to base arguments on false allegations, then you should say so and be bold to call others out when they do. If you do not think it is wrong, then I think people will look at you very differently.

      • 38 yawningbread 21 July 2012 at 11:28

        You may think 70 kmh is risky. I do not. So why do you think I shouldn’t argue for a higher speed limit? Why have you pre-assumed the “right” answer?

        Long time readers will know I call out lots of false arguments made by others. It so happens, most of those false arguments are made by our ministers.

      • 39 octopi 21 July 2012 at 21:37

        The issue here is not whether people are going to have false allegations. Nobody is always right. Somebody will eventually make mistakes along the way. The problem is that the government in this particular case is doing a spectacularly poor job at explaining why it thinks that Yawning Bread’s allegations are false. That letter that was required to be posted on his web – I am shocked and dismayed at how poorly written it was.

      • 40 Robox 21 July 2012 at 22:32

        @Emily, in my opinion, it is you who would need to reexamine the conclusions you are drawing here.

        Your point of contention, which you have raised more than once, might be summarized in this question by you: “…don’t you think it is wrong to mount an argument based on false allegations?”

        As simple as that may be to understand, I’ll break that down. You are really saying to Alex:

        1. You made a false allegation; and then,

        2. You went on to make arguments BASED on that false allegation.

        Unless I missed it, no time in any of the AGC’s communique did it specify what the false allegation that Alex was deemed to have made, unless it was that specific statement they highlighted in reference to Woffles Wu.. (I am assuming that this is the “false allegation” that you too are refering to.)

        The question that you needed to have asked yourself was, “Was Alex’ two-part artcle BASED on that false allegation?” If you answered ‘yes”, it would have to be you that have to be called on it.

        This two-parter that Alex has written is BASED on:

        1. the existence of the law on “scanadalizing the court” and/or its enforcement: and,

        2. the EFFECTS OF SUCH A LAW on matters such as the freedom of speech.

        And what is so wrong with that unless you – and I suspect the AGC as well – think that discussion of a particular piece of legislation and its effects on society, particularly if you at variance with the AGC on those effects, is itself “contempt of court” and not a legitimate topic of discussion?

  25. 41 octopi 18 July 2012 at 22:43

    I agree on principle that there has to be more transparency in the judicial system, and it is true that there have been a few episodes in the past where the law has been applied in a highly questionable manner.

    I don’t fully agree with you on the Woffles Wu case for reasons I have mentioned earlier, but that’s OK. I see a lot of comments on that incident, and a lot of them are based on misconceptions about that case: A lot of misconceptions that I myself would have had if I hadn’t gone one step further and researched the case. That makes me a little skeptical that people are actually going to read all the facts even though they all get published and known. It seems that the AGC makes a lot of statements that people here dismiss even before they listen and process them in their heads.

    That’s symptomatic of the system in general: you get a lot of people who are sheep and believe everything the system tells them, a lot (but lesser) of people who are brave and question the system a lot of the time, but not that many people who read both sides of the story.

    Now even if Woffles Wu gets away because he’s rich, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the judiciary’s problem. Rich people also have better lawyers who can argue their way better and find the loopholes to exploit. That’s at least as serious an issue as the judiciary and prosecution system.

    Lastly, I believe that the state needs to be strong because once you allow too many people to question court judgements, remember that it is not the weak and disenfranchised who will be best positioned to exploit this weakness. You have a system where the rich and powerful can astroturf their way into making court decisions favour them.

    To be fair I don’t think that you believe in total freedom of speech because otherwise there would not be any comment moderation. There still needs to be constraints on free speech – there are issues other than freedom, for example, whether the discussion is a productive and meaningful one.

    There are other wars to be fought. Maybe we should rethink the defamation laws. Maybe there should be more transparency in corporate and competition laws. Limits on the number of directorships a person can hold. Stronger separation between powers. More efforts to educate the public on the law and their rights.

  26. 42 liew Kai Khiun 18 July 2012 at 23:26

    Hi Alex,
    I salute your courage in standing firm on your principles. This whole episode reminds me of a Korean film i watched on the plane “Unbowed” on how a university professor continously challenged not just the validity of the judgements, but the integrity of the judges in their verdicts over his unfair dismissal and his alleged crime in shooting one of the judges with his crossbow. Based on a true Story

  27. 43 Anon j22W 19 July 2012 at 00:09

    The statement said Alex deliberately misrepresented the facts. Now in all the years I have been reading this blog, I have never come across an article where the facts have been deliberately misrepresented. This blog is amongst, if not the, most objective blog in Singapore. Now and again honest mistakes are made and when pointed out are corrected promptly. So I approach the statement with a lot of skepticism based on the history of this blog versus the history of others who have regularly published facts selectively. Now if Alex did not deliberately misprepresent the facts, he should sue for defamation. The law is a double edged sword. If it is indeed true that facts were deliberately misrepresented (as stated in the apology), I would be interested to know exactly what facts were misrepresented. Unfortunately, that might not be possible now that the original article has been forced to be removed.

    It would be good if someone could conduct a statistical analysis of like cases versus various parameters such as nationaility, wealth, etc to try and provide a more scientific basis for criticism. Knowing something is true is one thing, proving it can be more difficult. But it was done in the case of the allegation that Hougang HDB prices were lower than other constituencies and I’m sure there are many who are capable of doing it in this case, if only the environment was conducive to do so. Uncovering bias benefits all parties as it ultimately leads to a better system.

  28. 44 Tan Tai Wei 19 July 2012 at 00:15

    Someone above vouched for the integrity of our judges, but only with regard to their hearing cases not tinged with politics and the powers-that-be that in Singapore hold executive powers over them. But, surely, it is with the latter cases that the real test of their integrity lies?

  29. 45 Anon j22W 19 July 2012 at 00:21

    I should also point out that the well known objectivity of this blog is probably why Alex is not being charged today; there are many along all sides of the political spectrum who respect Alex and his articles.

  30. 46 B_Tiger 19 July 2012 at 08:04

    I quote: “Lastly, I believe that the state needs to be strong because once you allow too many people to question court judgements, remember that it is not the weak and disenfranchised who will be best positioned to exploit this weakness. You have a system where the rich and powerful can astroturf their way into making court decisions favour them. ”

    I was once a student of the famous AG Walter Woon before he “crossed over to the dark side” as he jokingly said of himself. He was a great law academic and was very popular with us students. One of his favourite ways of filling in the time between lessons was to “question” court judgements of high profile cases such as the Glenn Knight case and to discuss and opine his own views within the four walls. It was the most thrilling and educational period of my entire course.

    The point I want to make is it is not only the “rich and powerful” who will benefit from a more tolerant scandalising of court law, but also the relative poorer but intellectually resourceful like students, bloggers and anyone who has an interest in studying law or in knowing the truth behind a judgement. So if we allow more questioning I believe it will be a counterbalanced situation in the long run which will benefit society as a whole compared our current situation of suppressed discussion. What Alex says to backup his call is you just have to look around at other countries where there is no such restrictive law and see if their society is more open or less, and whether their judicial is stronger or less for it.

    We cannot always work and over-protect any public institution based on the focus that the feared worst-case situation will happen if we do not. In reality it will and has shown to be different because we may have not looked all all the possible more positive outcomes in our focus on the negative.

    • 47 octopi 19 July 2012 at 13:51

      Not going to give a substantive reply about the benefits and costs of freedom of speech here. I’ll only say that you’ve only brought up an example where people have used freedom of speech with the best of intentions and it doesn’t represent the general situation.

      And I probably don’t have to point this out but anybody who makes decisions by focusing on the positive and not the “feared worst case situation” is not doing a good job. When the rich and the poor come head to head, 9 out of 10 times the rich people will win.

      • 48 B_Tiger 20 July 2012 at 07:26

        Bro, this is exactly what I mean by “focusing on the negative”. It has become such a modus operandi in public policy to the extent that any possible positive outcome is simply rejected as being too “focusing on the positive … not doing a good job”, and sometimes ridiculous excuses are found to keep the status quo. If the government thinks so it is understandable, but the people who think so are definitely in a minority, unless you limit your survey only to the civil service.

        By that mindset, bar top dancing will still be disallowed in Singapore pubs with a fine of $750. Remember how the police and Vivian tried to justify it? Oh the dancers might fall off and hurt himself or herself. Oh this law is just to protect the dancers from fighting with themselves…..etc etc like it has anything to do with the actual act of dancing on the bar top. They dished out all the flimsy illogical excuses to keep the law. Am I the only one who think that such a mindset is detrimental to Singapore? Obviously not. Not even the government in this case for it was abolished in 2003. And ditto for the immoral and internationally notorious Mandatory Death Sentence in 2012.

        Where can you find examples where your focus on the negative mindset of public policy has produced a law that has balance and benefited society more as a whole than a more open mindset?

        The question here is it’s not about the rich citizen vs the poor citizen fighting ourselves over what little scraps of freedom thrown at us. It’s really about our fundamental freedoms being taken away too lightly for the benefit of the few who are privileged with power.

        See past discussions on bar top dancing and death penalty:

      • 49 octopi 21 July 2012 at 21:28

        Like I said before, and I say again, I agree that there has to be more transparency on the judiciary system, I’m just pointing out that you can go too far in that direction. I’m not advocating focusing on the positive or the negative, but having a balanced view of both.

        You can give people all the free speech in the world, and they will start believing that Obama is a Muslim, that climate change is not man made, that taxes and government are always bad.

        Or another example: they just passed universal health care in the US, that was supposed to be a good thing, but that law just got challenged left right and centre by people acting on behalf of insurance companies who are not happy and narrowly escaped being struck down by the Supreme Court. And even a more transparent Supreme Court than ours managed to pass the “Citizens United” law that changed the election donations law and tilted the balance in favour of the rich.

        I would rather have my freedom taken away by the government than a rich guy because you can always vote the government out of office, whereas you cannot do anything about the rich guy. When I look at America today, I feel that income inequality is a bigger problem than the government taking away peoples’ liberties. I don’t know about libertarianism but I’m not a libertarian. I want my government to do the right thing, and I want it to have the power to do the right thing. Without a government, the strong are always going to bully the weak. My opinion is that the problem is that the government is siding with the elites too much, not that the government has too much power.

        Like I said earlier, there are other laws that you can go after. You should relax the defamation law, because with the defamation law, a lot of whistleblowers will not be protected from suits. I agree with you about the mandatory death sentence. Probably detention without trial also has to go. We need freedom of Assembly. Contempt of court for me – very low priority. I’m just not interested in that. What I want is to go after the laws that I don’t like, not to remove the government’s power to enforce the law.

        Or take the recent incident involving the Law society, the contempt of court law would have applied to the guy who barged into court and tried to remove M Ravi. Contempt of court works both ways – on both sides of the law.

        On another note, things are changing very quickly in Singapore. The Hougang by-election case was not thrown out as per the AGC request. This is notable because this time the court did not automatically side with the government. KJ is suing the government and it looks like there might be a hearing. Personally I don’t want to make any conclusions about the judiciary right now, things are happening. I just want to sit back and watch what happens first.

  31. 50 dylan 19 July 2012 at 11:02

    Head over to utube and watch quantum language by david wynn miller. He applies mathematical formula to language to a near perfect structure that no matter how you read it, it is accurate and correct.

    This essentially makes all court laws invalid and thus have a near 100% win rate against court.

    He makes controversial claims but what he says have some degree of truth in it.

    • 51 GoonDoo 19 July 2012 at 16:45

      Will the act of conducting an anonymous straw poll in Sg asking the following questions be considered contempt of court?

      – Do you perceive the courts to be impartial in hearing cases touching on political matters, in Singapore?

      – Do you perceive that the judiciary in Singapore is absolutely independent, in arriving at their decision?

      Provided you can get people to overcome their fear of participating openly & honestly in such an anonymous survey, I think the poll results might be pretty interesting. If a substantial number reply NO to both questions.. then surely there is a need to addres the dictum that justice must not only be done, but be SEEN to be done.

      • 52 yawningbread 19 July 2012 at 22:20

        Nobody can give you a definitive answer. The problem of interpretation is a huge unknown in Singapore. Who would have thought that a handful of people walking individually (not together) on a pavement, mingling with shoppers, observing traffic lights when crossing roads, would constitute an illegal procession? But according to precedent from a court case, it is!

  32. 53 Goop 20 July 2012 at 13:14

    Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Public interest? What “public interest”? People in the establishment are happy to uphold their own interests at the expense of the public. This self-serving contempt of court law is just another lame excuse for the powerful to shield their oversized egos from criticism, and that’s all there is to it. And in doing so, they age on about how important it is to uphold the integrity of the judiciary but are actually digging their own graves.

  33. 54 The Pariah 21 July 2012 at 10:56

    @ Valentino Romanis and Alex Au: Thank you for your thoughtful exchange which sheds light (rather than heat) for plebians like me.

    Given the public interest and perception even after clarifications from both AGC and Law Minister, let’s see if the Court will issue a written judgement setting out the Grounds of Decision for $1,000 fine for repeated offences by Waffling Woffles (WW).

    I reckon that MHA and MinLaw with oversight authority over Police and AGC, respectively, in the handling of WW case have more to answer for. Hence, the Court’s written judgement would train the light beam of public scrutiny (one of the essential systemic checks-and-balances) more accurately.

    Should our Judiciary should be 100% passivist (as opposed to 100% activist) within the constitutional framework on the assumption of either a mildly or an utterly rogue govt? Eg, when the Courts have to enforce unjust laws passed by Parliament overwhelmingly dominated for a long time period by a single ruling party kept in power by, say, policies that secure the political future of said ruling party at every GE?

    Other than a bloody revolution in the interim or a massive vote-out at next GE, what provisions do we have in law for the Judiciary as one of the vital pillars of our society and nationhood to be activist under prescribed circumstances and thus serve our Country and our People? By the same reasoning that Singapore is so small and so fragile, shouldn’t we have one more systemtic avenue of judicial check-and-balance against the Executive and the Legislative arms?

    Even if (or even when) we have such constitutional provisions but if the Judiciary fails to exercise such powers justly and in good time, would public commentaries then be rated as “scandalizing” or “contemptuous” of the court when the public needs to be “educated” in order to make an informed decision, eg, whether to risk life and limb for a revolution or to vote accordingly at the next GE?

    Our Judiciary have a constitutional right of Legal Review of laws passed by Parliament. I do not believe it has ever been exercised in our soon-to-be 47 years of nationhood. Perhaps, it is because all our properly passed laws are just and comply with (i) the letter and (ii) the spirit of all international conventions and treaties to which Singapore is a signatory and rule of law considerations of a purportedly First World Govt.

    So who checks the Judiciary other than the PM who may not recommend judicial re-appointment after age 65 to the President? I thought our Judiciary serves our Country and our People. So why can’t the public make “fair comment” without scandal or contempt of the Court?

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