It was good fun watching the news last night. On the one hand, you have the good-intentioned technocrats from the ruling party trying to use facts and logic to explain why we need to have the contempt law written down properly for Singapore courts. In the other corner of the ring, Workers’ Party MPs were essentially using emotions to try to tug the heartstrings of voters; the big bully versus the man-in the-street narrative which they so often and conveniently pulled out to scare Singaporeans . Do not let these elites rule over you. We will protect your freedom, they say.
When you break it all down, the WP was basically politicking without adding anything new to the debate. Most of the points they raised could have been brought up even before the introduction of the bill. But why didn’t they bring it up?
Here’s why. For a start, the contempt law is already in existence. The main difference is these guys from the men in the white are trying to write it down in the statue. The points raised by the WP about suppression of freedom would have applied to the current contempt law as well which without a statue to follow is actually more draconian.
And one important aspect of it was the bill introduced guidelines for sentences for the judges whereas in the past, it was based on case law and pretty much up to the judges to decide how they want to convict. Technically, they could sentence you for life if they want to – though it would be disastrous for any judge to do so. Unfortunately, the guidelines also need to spell out the maximum sentence which the detractors are quick to use it to their maximum advantage. Oh, you can get up to xx numbers of years for contempt now. This, of course, is bullshit because current laws already provided for such sentences at the discretion of the judges.
What the opposition and the critics of the bill also chose to ignore and no one in that camp actually openly talked about it was the fact that the high profiled trials in many countries – both developed and non-developed societies – have been turned into media circuses. I read the other day a piece by a former law professor who listed out many well known examples of trial by media. The Michael Jackson case where he was more or less pronounced guilty by the media and the public way before the court’s decision. And he was acquitted but damage was already done. And the case of the murder of a Yale student where there were unverified reports about DNAs of the accused being found in the body even before evidence were first presented. And South African runner whose popularity prompted fans to take to the street to proclaim he should be freed. These courts have become a joke.
These scenarios were pretty horrendous. It can happen here too as the professor pointed out in recent cases such as Pastor Kong Hee and the CNB chief trials. At times I wonder why the liberals and the opposition refuse to see all the flaws that are so obvious in Western societies that have almost rendered the executive and judiciary branches ineffective all in the name of freedom of speech. The WP chose to use emotional extortion, going on the line of individual freedom. They are prepared to sacrifice the rights of the poor individuals in the court facing potential severe penalties such as the death sentence. Most of the media and the online trolls have so far shown to have little understanding of the law and the consequences of their irresponsible actions.
The good news was common sense prevailed among those in the middle ground. At the end of the lively debate – I am told it lasted till past 9 pm – all the Nominated MPs while they were very vocal in their speeches with suggested amendments to the bill, voted in favour of the law with no changes needed. WP, predictably, with no real effective and strong arguments, all voted against the bill without any conscience at all. It was overall a good day for Singapore.