No significant risk of sub judice with talk on repeal of India's gay sex law, says Shanmugam

There is no significant risk of sub judice with a talk here on India's repeal of Section 377, a law which criminalises consensual sex between people of the same sex, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

The talk at Yale-NUS College was by Dr Menaka Guruswamy, a senior advocate at India's Supreme Court and one of the lawyers who won a legal battle to strike down the colonial-era law in India.

Mr Shanmugam said in a Facebook post that there had been objections to the talk from the public, with concerns that it could be sub judice.

Sub judice, which is a form of contempt of court, refers to actions that can unduly influence court proceedings.

This is because legal challenges to Singapore's version of the law, Section 377A, which applies only to men, are about to be heard in court here, the first of which will take place tomorrow.

But Mr Shanmugam said: "I don't see a significant risk of sub judice."

Explaining why, he said: "One may agree or disagree with (Dr Guruswamy's) views, but I am sure she knows about rules relating to sub judice, and I don't see an objection to her speaking about the law, and what happened in the Indian Supreme Court, where their Section 377 was successfully challenged."

Several people wrote to Mr Shanmugam, objecting to Dr Guruswamy's talk, the minister said in his Facebook post, ahead of the talk yesterday.

There was also a petition asking the Government to stop her talk, said Mr Shanmugam, referring to an online petition that garnered 10,500 signatures in two days, as of 11pm yesterday.

 
 
 
 

A link to the petition in question was shared on the Facebook page Singaporeans Defending Marriage & Family.

About 500 people, comprising Yale-NUS students and staff and members of the public, attended the talk at the college yesterday evening.

In September last year, India ruled to decriminalise Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This means consensual gay sex is no longer a crime in the country.

In Singapore, three court cases filed here separately by three different men - all challenging the constitutionality of Section 377A of the Penal Code - will be heard this month.

Section 377A criminalises acts of "gross indecency" between men, and those convicted can be jailed for up to two years.

In September, an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, who is a retired general practitioner, filed a new court challenge against Section 377A in Singapore, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

Dr Tan Seng Kee, 61, better known as Roy Tan, said his case and two other similar cases have been scheduled to be heard on Nov 13, 15, 18, 20, 21 and 22.

The two other challenges were filed last year by disc jockey Johnson Ong Ming, then 43, also known by his stage name DJ Big Kid, and Mr Bryan Choong, then 41, who is the former executive director of LGBT non-profit organisation Oogachaga.

All three cases argue that Section 377A is inconsistent with various articles of the Singapore Constitution.

The Attorney-General has been listed as the defendant in all of the cases.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2019, with the headline 'No significant risk of sub judice with talk on repeal of India's gay sex law, says Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe