In a sharp opposition to the newly-passed Contempt of Court law, the Opposition’s Workers’ Party MP Sylvia Lim said that the new law is only to protect the ruling party elites.
“Are we not using a sledgehammer to kill an ant? It would be intimidating not just to persons on the receiving end of such investigations but to society at large. The upshot of reducing the role of the courts and investing draconian powers in the executive is to leave Singaporeans at the mercy of administrative discretion. We would be one step closer to being a police state.
Are we an exceptional nation when we say that our professionally trained judges need to be protected from public opinion? Are we an exceptional nation by making Government officials exempt from contempt laws? To me, these are matters we should be ashamed of. By all means, uphold respect for the administration of justice but laws which protect the ruling elites at the expense of ordinary Singaporeans have no place in this House.”
Law Minister K Shanmugam retorted and challenged the Opposition MP to report him to the government-controlled Attorney-General if she thinks that his public comments on previous cases were prejudiced:
“I think people who know me know that I am quite careful about what I say … I know exactly what I’m saying. And if I am guilty of contempt then, this law is not going to help me. If I am not guilty of contempt, this law is completely irrelevant. And if Ms Lim believes that I committed contempt, (you) don’t have to wait for the law – put up a complaint to the Attorney-General.”
The newly-passed law was hotly contested between the minority Opposition members and the ruling party, and although all 9 Opposition MPs voted against the bill, 72 PAP MPs greatly overpowered them.
The new Contempt of Court law will charge anyone who make any single comment on an on-going trial, regardless if it is an insinuation of bias by the judge or not. Even when the trial is finished, criticising the judgment and the judge will lead to an arrest. Punishments could go as harsh as 3 years’ jail and a S$100,000 fine.