by Vincent Low
It was earlier reported that retired judge Low Wee Ping wrote to ST Forum (6 Feb) rebutting Minister of Prime Minister Office, Chan Chun Sing about letting Members of Parliament from People’s Action Party write directly to State Courts. This is to prevent interference of the judiciary and to ensure the independence of our courts.
It all started with the Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport as well as MP for Sengkang West, Lam Pin Min, who wrote an appeal letter on behalf of his resident directly to the State Courts to ask for leniency.
The High Court Judge, Justice See Kee Oon, who heard the appeal case, wasn’t very pleased with Lam’s letter, which contains some misrepresentation of facts of the case.
Justice See commented, “It was also somewhat troubling that the appellant (Lam’s resident) 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 the resident’s behalf directly to the State Courts.
Chan at first says ‘OK’ to write to courts but only for “urgent cases”
Subsequently, Chan who is also the PAP Whip, then went public to say that PAP MPs writing directly to courts is usually done for “urgent cases”.
“In urgent cases, such as if the court hearing is in the next few days, MPs may sometimes use their discretion to give letters by hand to residents to be used in court,” he said.
Chan added 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 said.
Retired judge reveals LKY’s standing instructions to PAP MPs not to write to courts at all
In his letter to ST Forum, retired judge Low countered Chan by revealing 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 recalled that when he was the Registrar of the Subordinate Courts and Supreme Court in the 1980s, he was instructed by then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin to ignore such MP letters and not to send them to the judges. He was supposed to return them back to the PAP Whip.
“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,” retired judge Low wrote. He also revealed that there was a file containing such letters currently sitting in the court registry.
“MPs writing to the courts would blur the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government,” he added.
“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.”
Chan makes a U-turn
Yesterday (9 Feb), Chan, as PAP Whip, wrote a memo to all the PAP MPs to stop them from writing to the courts on behalf of their residents so as to “avoid any doubt or public misperception” about the separations of power between the executive, legislature and judiciary.
“When approached by constituents over matters that come before the Courts, PAP MPs may write to MinLaw (on procedural issues) and Attorney General’s Chambers (on prosecutorial issues),” he wrote.
Should the MPs need assistance on exceptional cases or further advice on the matter, Chan now said they should approach him and MinLaw.
Chan also said that the separation of powers has never been in question, even when the Courts have received a letter from an MP, dirctly or indirectly. “Nevertheless, to avoid any doubt or public misperception, may I remind PAP MPs not to write to the Courts on behalf of their constituents,” he added.
Chan further stressed, “The Courts are in the best position to evaluate, holistically and impartially, the evidence presented and the merits of a case as well as clear and strict procedures to uphold the independence and integrity of the judicial process.”
It’s not known if Chan wrote the memo himself or if he was instructed to do so. Chan has been identified by the media earlier as one of the 3 possible contenders to be Singapore’s 4th generation PM. It looks like he may be making more U-turns should he become the PM of Singapore one day.