Forum: Pity Workers' Party did not respond to points made

I refer to Ms He Ting Ru's letter, "In-camera judicial reviews a credible alternative to tribunals" (Oct 20).

The Workers' Party (WP) agrees with the Government that it is important to protect the confidentiality of sensitive intelligence, and the safety of our security personnel.

The risks in court processes - including possible leaks of sensitive information, endangering the lives of our officers - are obvious.

Ms He suggests that some form of modified court process - including further limiting the number of participants involved in such processes - would help. It is a positive development that she recognises that normal court processes would not be suitable.

As Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam observed in Parliament, this appears to be the only point of substantive difference between the WP and the Government.

But as he went on to explain, Ms He's proposed modified court proceedings will not work.

This is because court hearings involving sensitive intelligence (often of entities and individuals in other countries), regardless of whether they are held in-camera, present several risks.

For example, leaks are almost certain. Foreign intelligence agencies would not only disavow any intelligence they might have provided us, but they would also refuse to work with us in future. The minister explained all this in Parliament.

This is why the Government had proposed a tribunal, headed by a Supreme Court judge, to hear Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica) cases.

In Fica cases, intelligence gathered would be available only on a need-to-know basis to a few persons within the security agencies. The Fica appeal process allows for effective protections to be built in to ensure that this information is ring-fenced tightly. We have used similar adaptations for statutes dealing with other sensitive issues, including internal security.

Ms He appears to use the terms "judicial review" and "appeal" interchangeably. But there is a significant difference between the two.

The appeal process prescribed under Fica would allow a Supreme Court judge to examine the Government's decision on an appellate standard.

This would be more rigorous than the traditional grounds of judicial review, which apply when government action is brought before a court.

It is a pity that both during the parliamentary debate and in Ms He's letter, there has been no attempt to engage on the points that were raised by the minister.

Lu Xinyi

Press Secretary to the Minister of Home Affairs

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