by Vincent Low
Retired district judge Low Wee Ping wrote to ST Forum and his letter was published on ST today (6 Feb). He revealed that there was an instruction from Singapore's first PM Lee Kuan Yew to PAP MPs not to write directly to State Courts.
Retired judge Low was commenting on a recent incident when the Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport as well as MP for Sengkang West, Lam Pin Min, wrote an appeal letter on behalf of his resident directly to the State Courts to ask for leniency.
Lam appeals to State Courts on behalf of resident
The resident, Ms Tang Ling Lee, had accidentally hit a motorcyclist resulting in the motorcyclist sustaining severe injuries. He suffered multiple fractures requiring a dozen operations in two months. However, in his appeal letter to the State Courts written on behalf of Tang, Lam said that the resident had only "accidentally brushed a motorcyclist resulting in the motorcyclist sustaining some injuries".
The High Court Judge, Justice See Kee Oon, who heard Tang's appeal wasn't very pleased with such misrepresentation of facts in Lam's letter. It appears that Lam simply took what the resident had told him lock, stock and barrel, and echoed her account to the State Courts without first checking.
"These statements are regrettably misleading if they correctly reflect what she (Tang) had conveyed to the MP (Lam)," said Justice See. What was written in Lam's letter was also not consistent with the Statement of Fact that Tang had already admitted to, noted the judge.
"It would appear that they sought to unfairly trivialise the accident and diminish the true extent of the victim’s substantial injuries," Justice See added.
Justice See further commented, "It was also somewhat troubling that the appellant (Tang) appeared to have sought to strenuously downplay her culpability in her appeal through her Member of Parliament." He noted that the MP’s appeal letter was sent on Tang's behalf directly to the State Courts.
In any case, Justice See dismissed Tang's appeal against a one-week jail term already imposed by the District Court earlier.
Minister Chan says 'OK' to write to courts but only for "urgent cases"
Justice See's revelations caused a furor online with many netizens questioning why Lam, a legislative as well as executive member of the government overstepping his boundary in interfering with the judiciary by sending the appeal letter to State Courts directly.
Minister in PMO as well as PAP Whip, Chan Chun Sing, then went public to say that MPs writing directly to courts is usually done only for "urgent cases".
MPs are generally advised to write to the Ministry of Law which will then forward the letters of appeal to the courts for their consideration, said Chan. But in urgent cases, for instance if the hearing is in the next few days, "MPs sometimes use their discretion, to give letters by hand to residents, to be used in court", he added.
Defending Lam, Chan said MPs are usually "not in a position to verify the facts narrated by the resident".
Lam, in his defence, said he had sent a letter of appeal to the Traffic Police last February on behalf of Tang when she saw him at MPS. "She shared with us the circumstances leading to the accident and that she was regretful and intended to plead guilty," he said.
On April 18 last year, Tang saw Lam again and said she would be charged in court on May 2. Lam said an appeal letter for leniency was given to her by hand on the same night in a sealed envelope, addressed "to whom it may concern" at the State Courts, as there was "some urgency" since the case would be mentioned in two weeks' time. Note that Chan had considered anything urgent to be in a "few days" kind of time frame.
Chan reiterated that PAP has no specific governing rules on the sending of MP letters to the courts or other agencies. Whom the MP's letter is addressed to will depend on which stage the case is at and the nature of the request, he added.
Other MPs like Heng Chee How, Zainal Sapari and Tin Pei Ling told the media that they usually refrain from writing to the courts, as they could be seen as overstepping their role.
Retired judge reveals LKY's standing instructions to PAP MPs not to write to courts at all
In response to what Chan said, Mr Low Wee Ping who revealed that he is a retired district judge and was also the Registrar of the Subordinate Courts and Supreme Court in the 1980s, decided to write to ST to counter Chan.
"I refer to the report (MPs write appeal letters to court only in 'urgent cases'; Feb 4) as well as to letters in The Straits Times' Forum on MPs sending letters to the courts," retired judge Low wrote.
"When I was the Subordinate Courts' Registrar, I was instructed by then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin to ignore such MP letters, to not send them to the judges, and to return them to the PAP Whip," he revealed.
"The reason, I was told, was that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had instructed all MPs (in writing) that they should not be writing such letters to the courts."
He also revealed that there was a file containing such letters currently sitting in the court registry.
"The late Mr Lee's views were exactly as stated by Mr Cheng Choon Fei (Unusual for MP to intervene in court case; Feb 3) and Ms Agnes Sng Hwee Lee (Make clear the boundaries on MP petition letters): MPs writing to the courts would blur the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government," added retired judge Low.
"Mr Lee was also of the view that if the MP's constituent resident perceived his sentence imposed by the court as lenient, he might attribute it solely to the MP's letter, and, therefore, feel obligated or grateful to vote for the MP in an election."
Clearly, Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted Singapore to be run transparently and openly, despite his party's dominance in the politics of Singapore. But it appears that the 3rd and 4th generation of PAP leaders think otherwise.