Photo of K Shanmugam from CNA

Defending criticisms against the increasing number of new laws protecting the government and judiciary, Law Minister K Shanmugam rejected that freedom in Singapore has been stifled. The Law Minister said that he wants to “protect” the judiciary from public criticisms deemed as “contempt and abuse”:

“If there is an erosion of trust and confidence in our judiciary, that would fundamentally affect the standing of Singapore and the way Singapore functions. Singapore has always taken a strict view on scandalising the courts, even before the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill (AOJP) was passed in Parliament in 2016. The Bill sets out what constitutes contempt of court and clarifies what does not. Since the AOJP has become law – has freedom of speech suffered? Have legitimate, free discussions on court cases been stifled? If we were to compromise on this, the effects will not be felt this year or next year, in the next two years. But some years later, we are likely to find ourselves in the same position that the British find themselves in today.”

Using his own survey results, Minister K Shanmugam claimed that Singaporeans are supportive of the judiciary because criticisms are banned. The PAP Minister also claimed that the UK is “suffering” because they do not ban “unfair” criticisms against their judiciary:

“Judges in the UK have been subjected to unfair public attacks, by mass media or on social media, which have undermined the standing, prestige and morale of the judiciary. The situation is different in Singapore, said Mr Shanmugam, pointing out that trust and confidence in the legal system was at 92 per cent according to a 2015 survey done by his ministry. A State Courts user survey that same year found that 95 per cent of users of our courts had confidence in the fair and effective administration of justice by the State Courts. But this is not cast in stone. And what is happening in the UK could easily have happened in Singapore. It can easily happen to us if we are not careful. The reason it has not happened is because we have chosen a different path from the United Kingdom in some ways.”

The Law Minister then came to his own conclusion that the banning of criticisms is good for the country:

“When the quality of the judiciary suffers, the rule of law suffers. When the rule of law suffers, the country suffers. The Government regards a strong and trusted judiciary as the bedrock of the rule of law. That is worth defending vigorously, and we will continue to do so through our laws and policies.”