SINGAPORE - The ruling People's Action Party has told its MPs not to write to the courts on behalf of their constituents to "avoid any doubt or public misperception" about the separations of power between the executive, legislature and judiciary.
Party whip Chan Chun Sing said in an internal memo to the party's MPs on Friday (Feb 9) that PAP MPs have, as a norm, refrained from writing to the courts on behalf of their constituents. The letter was released to the media.
"When approached by constituents over matters that come before the Courts, PAP MPs may write to MinLaw (on procedural issues) and Attorney General's Chambers (on prosecutorial issues)," he wrote.
"This has been the general practice, and will remain so."
Should the MPs need assistance on exceptional cases or further advice on the matter, Mr Chan said they should approach the party whip and MinLaw.
The question of when MPs should write to the courts arose after a judge took issue with the misrepresentation of facts in a letter by Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min to the State Courts. It downplayed a motorist's culpability in a traffic accident.
In judgment grounds released two weeks ago, Justice See Kee Oon highlighted the misrepresentation of facts as "somewhat troubling".
Last week, in response to queries from The Straits Times, Mr Chan outlined internal procedure for how its MPs should deal with residents' cases. MPs should write letters of appeal directly to the courts on behalf of residents, only in "urgent cases", he said then.
"In urgent cases, such as if the court hearing is in the next few days, MPs may sometimes use their discretion to give letters by hand to residents to be used in court," he said.
The discussion prompted a retired district judge, Mr Low Wee Ping, to write in to The Straits Times Forum on the matter.
In a letter published on Tuesday, Mr Low said that when he was the Subordinate Courts' Registrar, he was instructed by then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin to ignore such MP letters, to not send them to the judges, and to return them to the PAP Whip.
Wrote Mr Low: "The reason, I was told, was that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had instructed all MPs (in writing) that they should not be writing such letters to the courts."
Mr Lee's view was that MPs writing to the courts would blur the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, added Mr Low.
In Friday's letter to PAP MPs, Mr Chan said that the separation of powers has never been in question, even when the Courts have received a letter from an MP, dirctly or indirectly.
But, he added: "Nevertheless, to avoid any doubt or public misperception, may I remind PAP MPs not to write to the Courts on behalf of their constituents."
"Should you need assistance on exceptional cases or further advice on this matter, please refer your queries to MinLaw and Party Whip."
Mr Chan also stressed: "The Courts are in the best position to evaluate, holistically and impartially, the evidence presented and the merits of a case as well as clear and strict procedures to uphold the independence and integrity of the judicial process."