Forum: In-camera judicial reviews a credible alternative to tribunals

I refer to Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang's column "Not too late to bridge Fica divide" (Oct 17).

In it, Mr Han said "the WP failed to offer an alternative proposal to replace the proposed government tribunal".

This is incorrect. One of the main pillars of the Workers' Party (WP) slate of amendments to the Fica Bill proposed that appeals under Fica, or the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, be channelled through the courts (with a provision for an in-camera option) rather than through the Government's reviewing tribunal mechanism.

Where there are national security issues at stake, the judge can allow proceedings to be held in camera, meaning that they are closed to the public and press.

This would maintain confidentiality, while ensuring that a separate and independent branch of government - the courts - would be allowed to consider decisions made by the Executive.

This would prevent what is in effect the Executive checking itself, and the recent instance where the Court of Appeal partially overturned a Pofma (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) correction directive underscores the importance of proper checks and balances being in place.

The Government argued during the debate in Parliament that appeals through the courts run the risk of leaks, which could endanger both the intelligence gathered, as well as the security and safety of involved security personnel.

We wholeheartedly agree with the importance of protecting confidentiality and the safety of our officers in such sensitive cases.

That is precisely why our alternative proposal sought to balance security considerations with those of impartial due process.

Such judicial reviews could be further limited in the number of participants involved to minimise the risk of leaks in security-sensitive cases.

We should also recall that the Government's proposed mechanism for reviewing tribunals itself would not guarantee the absence of leaks, as Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh explained during the debate.

Information could leak through the bureaucracy, as recent prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act illustrate. Indeed, no mechanism provides a cast-iron guarantee against this.

Based on an in-camera appeal through the courts with limited circulation of information, we should trust our judicial officers to fulfil their duties to the court while performing any required review of decisions and directions under Fica.

The judicial branch of the Government should be empowered to perform its role in scrutinising the Executive branch, to ensure rule of law, rather than rule by law.

He Ting Ru

Member of Parliament

Sengkang GRC

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