Thursday 19 July 2012

AGC defends contempt laws

It explains why it took action against blogger for post on Woffles Wu case
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2012

THE Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) yesterday defended Singapore's contempt of court laws, saying these exist to 'protect public confidence in the administration of justice'.

In a two-page statement, titled 'The Law of Contempt and Posts by Alex Au on the Blog 'Yawning Bread'', it outlined its reasons for taking action against Mr Au and explained what would be contempt of court.

Mr Au, a sociopolitical blogger, wrote a blog post on Sunday questioning the use of the contempt of court laws.

This follows the AGC's move two weeks ago, when it informed Mr Au that his June post about the Woffles Wu case was in contempt of court. He had questioned the charges and investigation processes in the case.

The AGC asked him to remove it and post an apology on his blog, which he did.

Dr Wu, a plastic surgeon, was fined $1,000 earlier last month for abetting an employee to take the rap for speeding offences. The sentence sparked many commentaries and discussions.

In his Sunday post, Mr Au argued, among other things, that the more public an institution is, the more leeway should be given to comment on it.

The AGC, in its response, said 'accusations of bias diminish (the administration of justice) 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.'

This was its objective when it first took action against Mr Au, the AGC said, because unlike other blogs or commentaries, he had 'gone beyond merely criticising the judgment' of the case.

His June post 'deliberately misrepresented the facts, and then accused the court of being biased, on the basis of his false facts', it said, adding: 'To make his points sound valid, Alex Au decided to mislead.'

He was also 'misleading', the AGC said, to allege in his Sunday entry that 'contempt laws prevent debate and curtail free speech without acknowledging what he did'.

It would not be contempt if someone criticised a judge for getting a decision wrong or imposing the wrong sentence. But it would be contempt to say the court was biased 'if there is no objective rational basis to do so, as Alex Au did', said the AGC.

It also pointed out, among other things, that other countries have similar laws on contempt.

Responding yesterday, Mr Au argued that free and open discussion would help safeguard the integrity of the justice system.

'It is entirely possible 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 judgments.

'At that point, it is free and open debate in society that will be key to highlighting the issues,' he said.

'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.'

He added there are countries with robust systems of justice, such as the United States and Britain, which do not rely on laws on scandalising the judiciary.

No comments:

Post a Comment