High Court states SDP’s appeal against POFMA correction directions will be heard in chambers, not in open court

The court appeal by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) against the correction directions issued by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, will not be heard in open court by the public or media, but in private chambers, says the High Court.

This announcement follows SDP’s application to the judge to have the case heard in open court.

A High Court spokesman told local media that the SDP’s appeal against the corrections was filed by way of an originating summons.

According to the rules of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), if anyone wishes to appeal to the High Court against the orders of the ministers, it must be brought by an originating summons, with a supporting affidavit to be filed at the same time.

The High Court noted that the rules of court provide that all originating summonses shall be heard in chambers, subject to directions of the court, among other things.

“As the Pofma appeal was filed by way of an originating summons, the appeal was hence arranged to be heard in chambers instead of open court,” the spokesman said.

Correction Order by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo challenged by SDP

SDP is applying to cancel the three correction orders for two of SDP’s posts on Facebook and an article on the party’s website. Since the minister has decided to reject the cancellation application by the party, they have taken the matter to Court, as provided for under POFMA.

SDP had earlier noted on its website on Monday (13 January) that the matter is set to be heard in chambers rather than in open court, meaning that the public and the media will not be allowed to attend.

The party said in its website, “This will be the first thing we do when the session is convened on Thursday morning. If the judge allows our application, the case will, presumably, be transferred to and continued in Court 6F.”

It added, “Given that the matter has drawn widespread and intense public interest, the SDP is of the view that the case be open to the public.”

The party noted in its statement that the issue of POFMA has received strong criticism from various parties while the issue of foreign talent flowing the country’s labour market is another hotly debated topic in the public sphere.

Given that these two subjects will be a matter of debate in the looming general election, the party is appealing to make the hearing open to the public.

The statement concluded with a quote by prominent Welsh judge Lord Atkin which goes, “Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards against improbity.”

The case so far

On 14 December, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) issued correction directions to the SDP for three postings it made online relating to employment trends in Singapore. The MOM alleged that SDP’s statements are false.

The party was directed under POFMA to carry a correction notice on each of the three posts which includes a link to the government’s Factually site, debunking SDP’s statements with MOM’s own data.

While SDP complied with the directions, the party also refuted MOM’s claims that their statements are false and misleading, noting that the information was based on data that MOM published itself.

The party then submitted an application to Ms Teo to cancel the correction directions, but the application was rejected. Ms Teo said that the party did not provide sufficient grounds for its appeal. However, no further explanation was given on how the SDP’s application was lacking.

Consequently, the party released a statement to say that MOM’s rejection and the answer given “is not a rational answer”, and called MOM’s response a “cop-out”. The party contends that it submitted a “detailed account – including analysing MOM’s own statistics – of the reasons for the statements in our posts.”

The party also hit back at Ms Teo for not being able to give an adequate explanation for her rejection of the appeal despite having the time to do so.

They said, “Minister Josephine Teo, despite having the entire Ministry and its officials at her disposal with two full working days and an entire weekend to refute our specific arguments, has refused or been unable to do so. This is telling,” it wrote.

The party then revealed it is “left with no choice” but to pursue the matter in Court, adding that it has filed an originating summons against Ms Teo in the High Court.

They also said that they will not be engaging a lawyer but instead will argue the matter themselves.

The party also emphasised that another reason it is taking legal action is because “Ms Teo’s order is an abuse of the law”.

The party explained that if the correction directions issued by Ms Teo are upheld, then “the last holdout where important national issues are openly and robustly debated on the Internet in Singapore would be irreparably closed”.

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