“The Attorney-General’s Chambers (“AGC”) has today issued a letter of warning to Ms Lee Seng Lynn (“Ms Lee”), through her counsel, for her having committed contempt of court,” the statement from the Attorney General, released on 14 June, said.
The AGC went on:
“AGC has completed its review of Ms Lee’s conduct and has assessed that Ms Lee’s conduct amounted to contempt of court by creating a real risk of prejudice to the criminal proceedings which were pending then.”
I am no lawyer but I know that a person can only be guilty of an offence, or a crime, if he is found guilty by the courts.
A person is not guilty of an offence or a crime just because someone else – even if he is the Attorney General – says so.
For the AGC to state so unequivocally that “Ms Lee’s conduct amounted to contempt of court” and to conclusively say there was indeed “contempt committed” is puzzling. Surely, the AGC itself should be aware that a person can only be found guilty by a court of law, and not by the AGC.
So, perhaps the AGC would like to explain further how Lynn Lee is guilty without her being charged, without being allowed to defend herself in court, and without the court finding her guilty.
I think AGC’s explanation will clarify and inform Singaporeans on how one’s guilt is ascertained and how our law works.
The other issue is how ‘sub judice’ contempt of court is decided and defined. This is a question which some are beginning to ask and it is an entirely valid question.
To a layman like myself, I fail to understand the difference between what Lynn Lee is said to have committed, and the two instances where the Law Minister spoke about Yong Vui Kong while his case was before the court of appeal, and the Prime Minister giving his views about section 377A of the Penal Code while the constitutionality of that law was before the courts.
“Yong Vui Kong is young. But if we say ‘We let you go’, what is the signal we are sending?”
With these words on 9 May 2010, Law Minister Mr K. Shanmugam tread where no right-minded Singapore politician ought to have gone – commenting and therefore potentially prejudicing an appeal before it had been decided in court. The effect of his remarks has even lead some voices to opine that the Minister could have been cited for contempt of court.
On 22 January 2013, the AGC issued the following statement on the then ongoing s377A case:
“The issue of the constitutionality of section 377A is before the High Court in two cases. When the cases are heard, the arguments relating to the constitutionality issue will be fully aired in Court. Meanwhile, we would remind all parties that statements made by members of the public would be sub judice contempt, if the statements are calculated to affect the minds of the courts hearing the case, the minds of parties who are concerned in the case itself, or if they amount to public pre-judgment of the case, and there is a real risk of prejudice.”
On 28 February 2013, Prime Minister Lee made public remarks about the law on homosexuality, which is what s377A is about. This is what the TODAY newspaper reported:
“Why is that law on the books? Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it,” said Mr Lee, adding that he had explained his decision in 2007 to retain Section 377A.
Mr Lee also brought up the issue of gay rights — which has come under the spotlight again recently — in response to a question from actress Janice Koh, who is also a Nominated Member of Parliament.
Ms Koh asked whether there is space for public discussions on issues that are potentially polarising.
She noted that such discussions could help build a more resilient society.
Citing the example of gay rights, Mr Lee said: “These are not issues that we can settle one way or the other, and it’s really best for us just to leave them be, and just agree to disagree. I think that’s the way Singapore will be for a long time.”
I think there is clearly a case for the Attorney General to explain how the remarks by the Prime Minister and the Law Minister – in two separate cases which were before the courts when their remarks were made – do not constitute contempt of court, if Lynn Lee’s video was.
Lately, much have been written about trust in our public institution and how it has eroded or should not be allowed to be eroded.
I agree that trust in our public institution is vital, for example, to the rule of law in our country and its enforcement. Any public perception that the law is selectively applied, or ambiguous, will lead to the erosion of trust in the law itself and/or those who have authority to enforce it.
It is thus of utmost importance that the AGC explain to the public, in clear and unequivocal terms, the difference between Lynn Lee’s case, and the two involving the Prime Minister and the Law Minister.
I think the public deserves an explanation.
And as one who believes in the rule of law, in my view, Lynn Lee is not guilty of what the AGC says – simply because the courts did not find her guilty, nor was she allowed to defend herself, which should be the right of every accused person.
In fact, what the AGC has done – to lay an accusation on her – is totally unfair.
Now, a person can be pronounced guilty by the AGC via statements to the media and the press? This is something which every Singaporean, lawyer and law-maker should be most concerned about indeed.
When did the AGC become, effectively, a court unto itself? If the AGC can pronounce guilt, why then the need for the courts?
As this article, “Sub judice and Lynn Lee“, says:
“The warning letter issued to Lynn was terribly unfair. She now has to live with the stigma of an official “warning” letter stating unequivocally that she is guilty of contempt of Court.
“This is despite the fact that the assertion was never tested in a Court of law. It is the view of AGC, which initiated the investigation, decided on her liability, and selected her punishment.”
How fair is that?