Entrance of State court (Photo - Terry Xu).

State Court to hear Daniel De Costa’s constitutional challenge on Wed

An open hearing for Daniel Augustin De Costa’s constitutional challenge will be held in the State Court on Wed morning (27 Nov) in an open court hearing in Court 13 of the State Court at 9.30am, following his charge for criminal defamation last Dec.

Mr De Costa filed an application on 27 Aug this year for a case to be stated to the High Court on the following question:

8 the phrase ‘the reputation of such person’ is to be read as being limited to natural persons only having regard to the decision of the Court of Appeal in Attorney General v Ting Choon Meng [2017], and does not extend to the Cabinet having regard to the Articles 235 and 246 of the Singapore Constitution.

Should the court issue a ruling in favour of Mr De Costa, he will have the criminal defamation charge against him quashed under the inherent jurisdiction of the Court.

Mr De Costa’s instructing solicitor M Ravi, via the Carson Law Chambers Facebook page, previously said that its 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.

According to Carson Law Chambers, the court had asked Mr De Costa for the following on 11 Sep this year:

a. The defence’s interpretation on the meaning of what is a constitutional question of law;

b. If the defence is arguing whether the case stated relates to a constitutional question; and

c. The basis in support of such an argument, if they are indeed arguing that the issue is a question in constitutionality.

Mr De Costa was arrested on 12 Dec 2018 under Section 499 of the Penal Code, which states that “whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs, or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person, intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person”.

He was subsequently charged under the same Penal Code provision at State Courts the following day under Section 500 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, Rev. Ed. 2008) for criminal defamation, the following of which is the full charge:

‘… that you on 4th September 2018, at about 7:24pm, at an Internet café located in Chinatown, Singapore had defamed members of the Cabinet of Singapore by making an imputation concerning members of the Cabinet of Singapore by words intended to be read, to wit, by sending an email titled ‘PAP MP apologises to SP’ from [email protected] to [email protected] which you had written and which stated that there was ‘corruption at the highest echelons’ intending that the contents of the said email would be published on the website www.theonlinecitizen.com, knowing that such imputation would harm the reputation of members of the Cabinet of Singapore […]”

Willy Sum was a pseudonym used by Mr De Costa.

Further background of Daniel De Costa’s case

Mr De Costa was alleged to have sent an email titled “PAP MP apologises to SDP” on 4 Sep 2018 from [email protected], with the intention of having the contents of that email to be published on TOC.

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

Published on 4 Sep 2018, the article submitted by Mr De Costa alleged that “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 Infocomms and Media Development Authority (IMDA) on 18 Sep 2018. IMDA then reported the article to the Singapore Police Force the following month on 8 Oct 2018.

On 20 Nov 2018, the police seized electronic devices from Mr Terry Xu, TOC‘s editor-in-chief, and Mr De Costa’s respective residences under court orders.

Mr Xu was subjected to an eight-hour interview with the police on the day itself, while De Costa was interviewed at a later date.

Under Section 500 of the Penal Code, those found guilty of criminal defamation may be subject to maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment or a fine or both.

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