Activist fails to get police warning quashed

Mr Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (Home).
Mr Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (Home). PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

The High Court has dismissed a civil activist's bid to quash a police warning, saying such warnings have no legal effect on the recipient so there is nothing for it to quash.

Mr Jolovan Wham, 35, a member of non-governmental group Community Action Network and executive director of HOME, a migrant worker help group, was probed by police after organising a candle-lit vigil at Hong Lim Park in October last year titled "Democracy Now! Singapore in solidarity with Hong Kong".

Meant as a show of support for demonstrators in Hong Kong fighting election restrictions, the event was publicised on Facebook with the condition that foreigners and permanent residents could not take part without a permit, as it would be illegal for them to do so otherwise.

But when foreigners appeared to take part, police investigations followed. Mr Wham was verbally warned and told similar leniency may not be shown in future.

He refused to sign the Notice of Warning and was not given a copy.

Such warnings are administered on the advice of the Attorney-General after investigations are completed and the findings reviewed.

Mr Wham was called to Central Police Division headquarters in March this year and issued the warning. Two months later, he enquired about the outcome of investigations and was told the warning had been administered in March.

Police followed with a letter to say he had been warned and the matter was treated as closed.

Mr Wham, concerned the stern warning would cause severe prejudice against him as it remained on record, then applied to court for a judicial review to quash the warning.

The case has helped to clarify what a police warning implies

At last month's hearing, the Attorney-General's Chamber's (AGC's) Francis Ng pointed out that a warning is just a communication of possible consequences if the recipient continues the forbidden conduct.

Lawyer Choo Zheng Xi countered that the warning would adversely impact his client as it showed he had committed an offence and could increase his chances of being prosecuted in future.

In judgement grounds released yesterday, Justice Woo Bih Li ruled that such warnings are no more than an opinion of the relevant authority that the recipient has committed an offence. "It does not bind the recipient," he added. "It does not and cannot amount to a legally binding pronouncement of guilt or finding of fact. Only a court of law has the power to make such a pronouncement or finding."

The judge explained that the recipient can challenge the warning as being inappropriate. He also pointed out that a court is not entitled to treat a warning as an antecedent or an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing a recipient who is subsequently convicted.

The judge further noted the document meant for Mr Wham was headed "Notice of Warning" but the content referred to a "stern" warning. He said if there was a difference, the terms should not be used interchangeably.

A spokesman for the AGC said: "AGC and the SPF are reviewing the process by which stern warnings are administered and the use of the notice, in the light of the High Court's comments in the judgment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline 'Activist fails to get police warning quashed'. Print Edition | Subscribe