SDP's Pofma appeal to be heard in chambers

According to rules governing courts and the law, hearing will not be open to public and media

The court appeal by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) against three correction directions issued against it under the fake news law is not open to the public or the media, owing to prevailing rules governing both the law and the courts.

A High Court spokesman yesterday said the SDP's appeal against the corrections was filed by way of an originating summons - which is one of two possible ways of starting a civil action.

This is in accordance with the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) rules, which state that appeals to the High Court must be brought by an originating summons, with a supporting affidavit to be filed at the same time.

The High Court website said an originating summons is a simpler and faster procedure than the other mode - which is by writ of summons - as it is "determined generally on affidavits filed and does not involve pleadings or many interlocutory proceedings".

The rules of court also provide that all originating summonses shall be heard in chambers, subject to directions of the court, among other things, the High Court added.

"As the Pofma appeal was filed by way of an originating summons, the appeal was hence arranged to be heard in chambers instead of open court," the spokesman said.

The SDP is challenging the Manpower Ministry's correction directions. The party, in a Facebook post on Monday, said it will make an application to the judge to have its case heard in open court instead of in chambers, when the session is convened tomorrow morning. It added that the case, with the Attorney-General named as the respondent, should be open to the public as the matter "has drawn widespread and intense public interest".

One way for the case to be heard in an open court is for the judge to convert the originating summons into a writ action. This was done last year in a case involving two Teochew clan associations. Senior Judge Andrew Ang allowed the move as he said it would enable a fairer resolution of the dispute.

The SDP case involves two corrections ordered last month by the ministry for two of the party's Facebook posts and an article on its website which the Manpower Ministry said contained falsehoods.

Both posts are linked to the article, "SDP Population Policy: Hire Singaporeans First, Retrench Singaporeans Last", which claims that a rising proportion of Singaporean professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are being laid off. The posts were also accompanied by infographics that depicted the employment of local PMETs as having fallen, and unemployment of this same group as having risen.

On Jan 3, the SDP applied to the Manpower Ministry to have the corrections cancelled, but Manpower Minister Josephine Teo rejected the application on Monday last week. The SDP filed its court challenge last Wednesday.

In its Facebook post on Monday, the SDP said: "Not only has the matter of Pofma been strongly criticised by the opposition, civil society and the general public as an unfair weapon of the ruling party, the issue of foreign PMETs flooding Singapore is also a controversial policy that has gripped the attention of Singaporeans.

"Given that these two issues will be hotly debated and decided by Singaporeans in the looming (general election), the SDP will appeal to the judge to make the hearing open to the public."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2020, with the headline SDP's Pofma appeal to be heard in chambers. Subscribe