Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill
Read Minister Shanmugam’s response here.
Madam Speaker, I welcome this Bill which seeks to protect our judiciary and integrity of legal proceedings. It is helpful to codify the law of contempt, in order to give Singaporeans a better understanding of what actions tantamount to sub judice, disobeying court orders and scandalising the courts.
The reality of today’s society, where there is easy access to virtual soapboxes, is that there will always be individuals who will be irresponsible and hold extreme views.
I support provisions in the Bill to manage media outlets and commentators some of which are primarily motivated by sensationalism and scandal, rather than to search for the truth.
Madam Speaker, I stand in support of this Bill but I would like to raise a few questions.
Defining public interest
Clause 3 (4) states that “A statement made by a person on behalf of the government about the subject matter of or an issue in a court proceeding that is pending is not contempt of court under subsection (1)(b) if the Government believes that such statement is necessary in the public interest.”
While some illustrations are given, can the Minister provide more clarity on how the Government will decide on whether such a statement is necessary in the public interest and whether “public interest” can be defined more clearly in the Bill?
While I understand the need to address inaccurate or incorrect public allegations, following the release of a government statement, is it possible for exemptions to also be made when a member of the public provides a differing but factual description of events and circumstances?
Can the Minister also provide further details on what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that judges are not influenced by the government statement?
Seeking further clarification for the layperson
Next, while the Bill seeks to provide clarity for lawyers, the text in its present form may expose the layperson to risks that they may not fully understand.
In this age of social media, where flurries of spontaneous conversation fill the internet, the layperson may not fully understand where the line is drawn and what he or she cannot say.
Clause 3(1)(b) prohibits the publication of material which poses “real risk” of prejudice or interference. Can the Minister provide a more detailed definition of what “real risk” entails?
Clause 11 refers to ‘publications’ – does this also include academic articles, or a private Facebook post? And can the Minister also provide a more detailed definition of what is considered ‘fair criticism’?
These are questions relevant to the public which we should have ready answers for.
I also propose efforts to raise public awareness in order to help the layperson understand the boundaries of what is legally tolerated and not.
Lastly, instead of a catch-all provision for penalties, it would be useful if penalties for each form of contempt could be spelt out so there is better clarity for application.
Madam Speaker, I stand in support of the Bill. Given the wide-reaching implications of this Bill, I am glad for the robust debate in this House, and trust that a well-crafted and thoughtful law will find wide public acceptance and support.