Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam posted a Facebook post on Friday evening, asking for the Ministry of Home Affairs to relook into legislation in regards to assaults upon uniformed officers.
This is in response to the verdict of 10-weeks imprisonment that was sentenced upon a 25-year-old male, Albin Lim. Lim pushed a female police officer on the ground and kicked her while she was on the floor.
Mr K Shanmugam’s post in full:
CPL Ammy of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) was physically attacked while doing her duty.
In May, she and her partner responded to a taxi driver who reported about his hostile passengers.
At the scene, CPL Ammy asked one of the passengers, Albin Lim for his particulars. Lim grabbed and pushed her to the ground. He then kicked her lower back. CPL Ammy suffered a blackout and collapsed.
Lim’s abusive conduct was terrible on several levels. He attacked a lady. He attacked an officer in uniform, doing her duty.
He has been sentenced to 10 weeks jail for this. I have asked the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to relook at the legislation, to consider whether this is adequate. I have said to MHA that anyone who attacks a uniformed officer should learn a lesson, which he will never forget; and it should be enough of a deterrence to others.
CPL Ammy is not the only Home Team officer who has suffered physical and verbal abuse when on duty. Last year, 344 cases were reported – almost one case per day! In the first 8 months of this year alone, there were 328 cases of abuse of Home Team officers.
In our current heightened security climate, the men and women of the Home Team work tirelessly daily to protect Singapore. They need our full support and cooperation.
Straits Times also reported his post with the title, “MHA asked to relook legislation on assault on uniformed officers: Shanmugam”
It can be surmised to say that the Minister of Law and Home Affairs was not too pleased with the outcome of the verdict with his Facebook post.
And so were his fans on his Facebook page, which spurred them to make comments that the sentencing was insufficient to deter future offenders.
However, given that the sentence was passed on this week and under Singapore law, there can be an appeal filed within 14 days after the date of the judgment, sentence or order. One has to consider the point that if the public prosecutor from Attorney-General’s Chamber decides to file an appeal against the sentence and there is a re-sentence, how much influence upon the decision of the judges and the severity of the sentence would be influenced by the minister’s comment that is posted on his social media page as well as published on the most widely-read broadsheet paper in Singapore.
It will be observed if the public prosecutor does indeed file an appeal and what changes to the sentence come after.
What is there to re-look into actually?
And while the minister’s comment may be seen by the public as a valid point that public servants ought to be protected with heavier legislation and not meant to influence a potential appeal.
The penal code that Lim was charged under, “Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty” already has a maximum imprisonment term of 7 years with caning as an option.
332. Whoever voluntarily causes hurt to any person being a public servant in the discharge of his duty as such public servant, or with intent to prevent or deter that person or any other public servant from discharging his duty as such public servant, or in consequence of anything done or attempted to be done by that person in the lawful discharge of his duty as such public servant, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years, or with fine, or with caning, or with any combination of such punishments.
Therefore, one would wonder what kind of re-looking is needed since the laws already have sufficient leeway to impose a heavier penalty upon the perpetrator.
Freedom of Government to issue comments on on-going cases
When the new law on the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act was passed, Ministry of Law noted that there is no fundamental change of the law and that the new law protected the rights of individuals, such as that one cannot prejudge or prejudice a matter which is under consideration by the courts. This is to protect the parties and ensure a fair and just outcome.
“Imagine if you were charged with an offence or sued in court. You would not want the outcome of your case to be influenced by people campaigning against you. Your case should be decided impartially by the judge based on the evidence before the court.” wrote Ministry of Law in its FAQ.
However, under Clause 3(4) of the new bill, contains an exception to sub judice contempt under clause 3(1)(b). A statement made by a person on behalf of the Government about the subject matter of or issue in a pending court proceeding is not contempt if the Government believes that such statement is necessary in the public interest.
When the bill was debated upon in Parliament in August this year, Mr Low Thia Khiang, MP of Aljunied GRC and Secretary-General of Workers’ Party stood up and asked about the apparent double standards of the new law when applied to Ministers and the Government.
Mr Low said,
“Yet, if the statement is made by a Government official, particularly a Minister, then it is a different matter altogether. Clearly, the new Bill will provide the Government and the Ministers with unfettered power. A statement, which could be considered as contempt of Court when it comes from a member of the public, becomes completely legal when it comes from the mouth of the Minister, as long as the Government believes that it is in the public interest to do so.
The question is: “what is considered to be in the public interest”? There is no clear explanation in this Bill. So who gets to decide? Of course it is the Government that gets to decide. As the saying goes, “The (Chinese) character guan (meaning Government) has two mouths”. So even if the ruling party’s intention is to protect its own interests, as long as they say it is in the public interest, what can the people do about it? That is to say that the ruling party is the sole judge on interpreting what is public interest. It can also justify the elimination of any dissenting voices, including organisations that opposes it, by accusing them of “not being in the public interest”.”
In response to Mr Low’s remark, the law minister replied, “Mr Low also said that the Government can say whatever it likes and the courts cannot do anything. Completely untrue. Under our system of law, the courts are the final arbiters of any provision of the law. The Government has got to act in accordance with the law. Mr Kok, Ms Kuik, Assoc Prof Mahdev Mohan and others asked me. I confirm that. What Justice Choor Singh said – If a Minister stands up and speaks about a particular case in a manner calculated to prejudice the proceedings and if he does it in bad faith, then I think he will committing contempt, and the Attorney-General will be entitled to commence proceedings.”
Well, the law minister is correct of course, we all know how much autonomy the Attorney-General has and how little influence he has over the AG and his department. It can be certain that the public will hold this belief, even though the upcoming Attorney-General is his former colleague in the law firm he used to be a partner in.