NMPs seek changes to Bill that spells out contempt of court

(From left) NMPs Kuik Shiao-Yin, Mahdev Mohan and Kok Heng Leun.
(From left) NMPs Kuik Shiao-Yin, Mahdev Mohan and Kok Heng Leun. PHOTO: ST FILE

Three Nominated MPs (NMPs) have made the unusual move of proposing changes to a Bill on laws of contempt of court, as they believe it will make the legislation clearer.

NMP Mahdev Mohan, an assistant professor of law at Singapore Management University, told The Straits Times yesterday that the amendments would bring the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill more in line with existing common law, which is built on judgments of previous cases.

The proposed changes, listed in a notice of amendments issued by Parliament yesterday, will be tabled at a Parliament sitting on Monday, when NMP Kok Heng Leun will also present a parliamentary petition on behalf of a group seeking to delay the passage of the Bill.

The 249 Singaporeans who signed the petition contend that it may restrict legitimate discussion of issues that are of public interest.

One clause in the Bill says contempt by scandalising the court is committed if a publication "poses a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined".

The NMPs want the phrase "real risk" to be used instead of just the word "risk".

The term "real risk" is from a 2010 judgment by High Court judge Quentin Loh, who ruled that for a statement to be in contempt, it had to have a "real risk" of scandalising the judiciary.

"If the Ministry of Law prefers a test which departs from the current legal position, (we would like) for it to formally offer an explanation," Mr Mohan said.

Another change that the NMPs are seeking relates to a clause in the Bill that states that a statement by the Government on an issue in a pending court proceeding is not contempt of court "if the Government believes that such a statement is necessary in the public interest".

The NMPs want the words "the Government believes that" to be removed.

The 14 proposed changes were submitted by Mr Mohan, Mr Kok, who is a theatre group artistic director, as well as NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin, a social entrepreneur.

Mr Mohan said they had worked together on the changes after they found, while discussing the Bill, that their concerns were similar.

The Bill was introduced in Parliament on July 11, and is scheduled for debate next week.

It covers three main areas of the law of contempt: prejudicing court matters, disobeying court orders and scandalising the courts.

Currently, there are no statutes on contempt of court, and existing laws are built on common law.

A spokesman for the Clerk of Parliament's office said the proposed amendments will be considered after the Bill is debated during its second reading.

It takes place when Parliament forms a committee of the whole House to scrutinise the Bill.

If the House agrees to the changes, they will be made before the Bill's third reading, which is the final step when the House decides whether to give it the nod.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'NMPs seek changes to Bill that spells out contempt of court'. Print Edition | Subscribe