MPs know not to write to courts but potential PM doesn’t

by Vincent Low

It was earlier reported that People’s Action Party’s Whip, Chan Chun Sing made a U-turn and wrote a memo to all PAP MPs on 9 Feb, telling them that they should refrain from writing directly to the courts on behalf of their residents. He has been identified by the media as one of the 3 possible contenders to be Singapore’s next PM.

In the memo, Chan who is also the Minister in Prime Minister’s Office, 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 said.

This was a complete U-turn from his earlier statements to the press saying 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 earlier. He further added that PAP has no specific governing rules on the sending of MP letters to the courts or other agencies.

Chan’s public statement elicited a rebuttal from retired judge Low Wee Ping. In his letter to ST Forum, retired judge Low revealed that there was a standing instruction to PAP MPs from Singapore’s first PM Lee Kuan Yew not to write to courts at all.

He 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.”

PAP MP Patrick Tay aware of “long-standing practice” not to write to courts

When Chan made the U-turn and wrote the memo to tell PAP MPs not to write to the courts directly, TODAY interviewed West Coast GRC MP Patrick Tay and other PAP MPs to get their views on the matter.

They told TODAY that they are aware of the “long-standing practice” for PAP MPs not to write to the courts on behalf of their constituents.

MP Patrick Tay said he would explain why he would not do so, when faced with such requests from his constituents.

“I’ve been a party activist for 20 years, and even during those days when I was branch secretary, we had this long-standing thing where we don’t write to the courts,” he added.

It’s strange that MPs like Patrick Tay are aware of the reasons for not writing to courts so as not to be seen interfering with the judicial process.

But our potential PM appears not to know and has to be corrected by a retired judge through ST Forum page.

What do you think of Chan as our future PM?