Debate In 2 Minutes

Joseph Schooling with his parents at Parliament House on August 15.
Joseph Schooling with his parents at Parliament House on August 15. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, which codifies the contempt of court law, was passed at the end of a gruelling nine-hour session in Parliament yesterday.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam made the case for the law, arguing that it mostly reflects the current case law on the subject. All nine Workers' Party MPs voted against the Bill, arguing it constituted a curb on freedom of speech.

Before the debate, it was all smiles in the House as Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling was formally congratulated by ministers and MPs in a motion after question time. The 21-year-old was present in the gallery with his parents, and dressed in a Singaporean-red blazer with his medal round his neck.

Parliament sits again today.

Cheers for Schooling

Swimming star Joseph Schooling received a standing ovation after four MPs gave speeches that celebrated his historic win - Singapore's first Olympic gold. Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, president of the National Olympic Council, said his victory was a milestone in Singapore's sporting history and exemplifies the Singapore spirit. Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) spoke of the power of sport to inspire generations and unify Singaporeans.

During the break after the adulation, he mingled with the MPs and posed with many wanting a keepsake.

The right to a fair trial

Mr Shanmugam argued for the need to set out in written form the rules governing what is contempt of court, adding that the Bill does not change the existing law, but codifies it.

The Bill has been in the works for the past six years, he said. He framed the debate as balancing the right of an individual to a fair trial against someone's wish to comment on the proceedings, a move that could prejudice it.It was better for that person to wait until after the trial ends to comment.

Questioning an exemption

The Workers' Party questioned an exemption for the Government from the contempt law when it comments on a matter before the courts that it believes is in the public interest. They argued that the Government should not be above the law.

Mr Shanmugam countered that there was a need for such a provision, for example, if the Government needs to share information during a public health scare or a riot.

Several Nominated MPs were also concerned about the Bill and asked if comments on social media would come under the law. The answer is: "Yes, if certain conditions are fulfilled." The courts will interpret the law and decide each case according to the facts.

But during the vote, no NMP opposed it. Only the nine WP members voted against it.

Response to AGO report

The lapses flagged in the Auditor-General's Office report were addressed by ministers.One said the Civic District's centralised bin centre was delivered satisfactorily and at an acceptable cost, while another explained that the overpayment of volunteer police officers was a procedural error. The Education Ministry may ban foreign students from working or living here when they intentionally shrug off their scholarship obligations.

Fighting terrorism

About 11,000 more cameras will be installed in town and neighbourhood centres soon, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee.

A medical support team will be sent to Iraq next year for three months, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Charissa Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Debate In 2 Minutes'. Subscribe