Entrance of State court (Photo - Terry Xu).

Court to hear Daniel de Costa’s constitutional challenge in criminal defamation charge on 27 November

A hearing date has been set for the State Court to hear Daniel de Costa’s constitutional challenge on his criminal defamation charge. The hearing will be on 27 November in open court at 9.30 am.

Sharing the information on Facebook, Carson Law Chambers, who has its lawyer, Mr M Ravi acting on the instructions of Mr De Costa, wrote:

“Our point questions whether the phrase “the reputation of such person” under Section 499 of the Penal Code is to be read as being limited to “natural persons only” having regard to an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal decided in 2017 and that the Cabinet is not a “natural person” by any definition and in accordance with Articles 23 and 24 of the Constitution,”

According to the law firm which is acting as Defence, the Court has given it the following directions:

a. The Defence interpretation on the meaning of what is a constitutional question of law.

b. Is the Defence therefore arguing whether the Case Stated relates to a constitutional question.

c. If so what is the basis in support of that.

The law firm’s constitutional question before the court is whether the phrase “the reputation of such person” under Section 499 of the Penal Code is to be read as being limited to “natural persons only” having regard to an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal decided in 2017 and that the Cabinet is not a “natural person” by any definition and in accordance with Articles 23 and 24 of the Constitution.

Additionally, the court also wants the prosecution to address the following:

  1. Whether the publication harms the reputation of the Cabinet.
  2. On that question, whether it is the Prosecution’s case that the harm caused to the Cabinet as an entity or that it harms the reputation of individual Cabinet members.
  3. If the Cabinet is an entity, the Prosecution to address whether it is possible for an entity, Cabinet, to be a victim of criminal defamation.
  4. If it is relating to individual Cabinet members, whether the Prosecution be further specific who in the Cabinet the charge relates to.

Case background

On 12 December 2018, Mr De Costa was charged for criminal defamation alongside TOC Editor Terry Xu for “publishing an imputation concerning members of the Cabinet of Singapore by words intended to be read, to wit, by approving the publication on the website [The Online Citizen] of a letter from Willy Sum…which stated that there was a ‘corruption at the highest echelons’.

Mr De Costa was additionally charged for committing an offence under the Computer Misuse Act of Singapore.

Willy Sum was a pseudonym used by Mr De Costa.

Published on 4 September 2018, the article submitted by Mr De Costa alleged, “we have seen multiple policy and foreign screw-ups, tampering of the Constitution, corruption at the highest echelons and apparent lack of respect from foreign powers ever since the demise of founding father Lee Kuan Yew”.

The offending article was taken down under the orders of Infocomm and Media Development Authority on 18 September 2018. IMDA then reported to the Singapore Police Force on 8 October 2018.

On 20 November 2018, the police seized electronic devices from the residence of both Terry and Mr De Costa under court orders. Terry was also subjected to an eight-hour interview with the police on the day itself, while De Costa was interviewed at a later date.

If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, a fine or both.