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Jeyaretnam (left); Rajah (right)

AG’s definition of “sub judice” called into question

Jeyaretnam (left); Rajah (right)
Jeyaretnam (left); Rajah (right)

Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam has questioned what he described as the Attorney General’s (AG) “peculiar definition of sub judice” involving a letter to a judge.

He was referring to the AG’s reaction to the letter by the lawyer for 16-year old blogger, Amos Yee.

Singapore’s current AG is VK Rajah, a former Court of Appeal justice.

Mr Alfred Dodwell, who is representing Yee, had issued a strongly-worded letter on 12 June to the presiding judge of Yee’s trial to complain about the way the deputy public prosecutor was going about his case.

The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) quickly took umbrage at the letter, citing sub judice concerns, and informed Mr Dodwell of this.

The letter to judge Jasvendar Kaur was later reported on by The Online Citizen (TOC) which had also appended the letter with the report.

Mr Dodwell subsequently removed the letter which had been posted on his law firm’s website.

However, he said he will elaborate on his concerns over the treatment of Yee, who is currently being remanded at Changi Prison, at his client’s next hearing on 23 June.

The AGC also sent a letter to TOC, a day after the website’s report was published, asking for the article on the letter be removed completely from the site.

TOC at first only removed the letter, and informed the AGC about it, and also asked the AGC to specify exactly which parts of Mr Dodwell’s letter were deemed by it to be sub judice.

The AGC declined to do so.

TOC then removed its report entirely but told the AGC that it will continue to report on the Amos Yee case.

In a blog post on 20 June, Mr Jeyaretnam said, “It is difficult to see how the AG can justify his restrictions on [the] reporting of Dodwell’s letter. It does not prejudice Amos’s right to a fair trial (in any case he has already been convicted). Nor does it protect anyone’s right to privacy.”

Mr Jeyaretnam, who has also uploaded Mr Dodwell’s letter to his own blog, pointed out that Mr Dodwell “criticised the way that Justice Kaur had allowed the prosecution to introduce new evidence at the sentencing hearing which essentially constituted fresh charges for which Amos should have been tried and given the opportunity to defend himself.”

“He pointed out quite rightly that this was unfair,” Mr Jeyaretnam, who is also the secretary general of the political opposition Reform Party, said.

Mr Jeyaretnam said that although he was not legally trained, his understanding of the meaning of sub judice “is that it refers to the publication of material in the period between a person being charged with a crime and his subsequent conviction that could sway the jury and lead to an unfair trail.”

But he said two points made the AG’s claims redundant.

First, he noted that Singapore does not adopt the jury system, as in other countries, and decisions are made by judges.

“Judges are legally trained and supposed to be impartial and incapable of being swayed by public pressure which is why they are not sequestered like juries,” Mr Jeyaretnam said.

Second, he said that Yee’s trial has been completed and the teenager has already been convicted by the courts.

“Does Dodwell making public his letter to Justice Kaur risk prejudicing or interfering with legal proceedings?” Mr Jeyaretnam asked. “I would argue not since Amos has already been convicted.”

He added: “The only people protected by this absurd take-down notice are those... who are unjustly and unfairly using the obscenity law and the charge of wounding religious feelings to cruelly and inhumanely punish a child for exercising his rights to freedom of expression.

“This is a perversion of the purpose of contempt of court rules.”

He said the public have the “right to know what is being done to a 16 year old boy [which seem to be] for no other obvious purpose than to scare others from attacking the late Saint Harry’s reputation”, referring to the late former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

Yee is in his present situation because of a Youtube video he had made about the late Lee, shortly after the latter passed away earlier this year, which the authorities say also “wounded the religious feelings of Christians”.

“Just as in any other advanced country Singaporeans should have the right to criticise a judge’s decision when obviously inconsistent or unjust,” Mr Jeyaretnam said.

He said that Mr Dodwell’s letter remains available on his blog.

“The AG has yet to send me a take-down notice,” Mr Jeyaretnam said. “However, if I receive one, I intend to challenge it.”

*Yee would have spent a total of 39 days in remand at Changi Prison by the time of his next court hearing on 23 June.

Read Mr Jeyaretnam's post here: "The AG’s Peculiar Definiton of Sub Judice".