The Attorney General Chambers (AGC) issued a 163-word statement on Wednesday with regard to the public discourse surrounding the Thaipusam incident, comprising four paragraphs that look like they were written by five different people.
The main aim appears to be the suggestion that comments made publically may be sub judice contempt of court if they are calculated to affect the judicial process and there is a real risk of prejudice being caused to the proceedings.
However, the fact that it has been reiterated time and time and time again that the Singapore judiciary is incorruptible, means that it simply has to be beyond any real risk of prejudice to the proceedings. In logical terms, if the judiciary is of such a high moral, ethical and legal standard that it is beyond the risk of prejudice, than no public comment, statement or online post in the world can reasonably pose any real risk of such prejudice.
Perhaps what the AGC is hinting at is the real risk in terms of undermining public confidence in the judiciary, in which regard, the comments and statements surrounding this incident are more the result of conclusions arrived through the independent analysis of events than any calculated attempt to influence public perception.
It would therefore be more helpful for the AGC to clearly spell out what sort of discourse would pose a real risk of prejudice instead of issuing blanket reminders that only cause confusion among the public which it is obligated to protect.
For instance, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) recently commenced investigations into the conduct of its officers based on a report filed by a woman who claimed to have been pushed down at the scene of the incident, but added “…if the allegations are found to be false, appropriate action, in accordance with our laws, will be taken…” when in fact this assertion was not supported by any concrete evidence at the time. This seems to fall squarely within the description of having a real risk of prejudice being caused to the proceedings.
In a similar vein, Member of Parliament Lam Pin Min’s assertion that the incident was an “example of how alcohol intoxication can cause rowdiness and public nuisance” soon after the incident had been reported in the press, had the effect of confounding the issue when nothing of the sort was established – he had apparently based his conclusion on the arresting officers’ testimony that the arrested persons “smelt strongly of alcohol”.
Such premature misrepresentation of the circumstances might lead many a layperson to erroneously take the MP’s word for verified truth and subsequently form expectations of the judiciary to prosecute or address the issue of public drinking. It could therefore be argued that there is a very real risk of public confidence in the judiciary being undermined as a result of misrepresentation by someone in high political office.
Such occurrences – be they unintentional or otherwise – have the potential of causing discord to the social fabric of Singapore. If this is the type of sub judice contempt the AGC is referring to, then it should be more explicit in its position on the issue, lest the general public be mistaken that this is some sort of veiled threat issued to the masses.