“The public should decide at least for once,” said Mr M Ravi, defence lawyer for Mr Alan Shadrake.
Mr Ravi was responding to a question from Justice Quentin Loh about who should decide on whether statements from Shadrake’s book Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Docks are contemptuous.
Mr Ravi said that the Singapore court has now been put in a difficult position, as it must now pass judgement on a case in which it is also an involved party. It is more appropriate that the people of Singapore be allowed to decide for themselves on whether the statements made in Shadrake’s book have scandalised the judiciary.
He explained that Singapore has developed as a society and that its people are now discerning and mature enough to react appropriately to fair criticism. There is no need for constant contempt of court charges to be brought against those who express their views on controversial or political issues such as the Death Penalty in Singapore.
“The Attorney-General Chambers should, for once, stop and just relax,” he said, adding that the concept of fair criticism is one that permeates all democratic societies and should not be suppressed by hypersensitivity.
He highlighted the difference between outspoken criticism and baseless insinuations, saying that “every citizen is entitled to fairly criticise” if there is reasonable apprehension of the judiciary bending backwards to accommodate executive decisions. Legitimate criticism would also help enhance public confidence in the judiciary.
“If Your Honour were to convict my client at the end of the day it would weaken confidence in the judiciary but would not strength confidence in the judiciary,” Mr Ravi said.
The literate and well-educated population of Singapore also makes it more appropriate for the real risk test to be used in this case instead of the inherent tendency test, he said.
The inherent tendency test was first deemed necessary in British colonial law as it was felt that inhabitants of smaller countries were not well-educated enough and therefore more susceptible to believe any criticism of the judiciary.
However, Mr Ravi submitted that the real risk test demands a higher level of proof, and is more suitable for a developed and discerning Singaporean society. “We can trust our population to handle these criticisms,” he said.
Justice Loh pointed out that in the past 12 to 13 contempt of court cases, Singaporean judges had used the inherent tendency test.
“It doesn’t matter. You are the one that makes the difference,” replied Mr Ravi.
He then went on to address the first 6 out of the 14 statements the Attorney-General Chambers had isolated from the book, demonstrating how each constituted fair criticism.
TOC is unable to provide a detailed report on Mr Ravi’s submissions on the statements as any one who publishes or reproduces these 14 allegedly contemptuous statements are liable to be also charged with contempt of court.
Mr Ravi also hit back at DPP Hema Subramaniam’s statements allegations, saying that by presenting the statements out of context, “it is the Attorney-General whose submissions are mean-spirited.” He stated that by cherry-picking certain excerpts instead of viewing the whole work in its entirety, even “biological textbooks would be labelled pornographic."
The hearing continues tomorrow morning. (See also DDP's submissions here)