Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A jaw-dropping, nearly-fell-off-the-chair moment

I realise such things shouldn't surprise me at all but still my jaw dropped when i read this report especially the section i've highlighted in bold.....
AG seeks 'substantial fine'
He asks court to send strong message in contempt of court case against WSJA.
By Zakir Hussain, ST Online, Nov 4, 2008

ATTORNEY-General Walter Woon has pressed for a substantial fine to be imposed on the Wall Street Journal Asia (WSJA) for contempt of court.

This was not the first time that the Hong-Kong based newspaper had attacked Singapore's judiciary, he told the High Court on Tuesday morning at the start of contempt of court proceedings against the WSJA. (Note: You might want to also refer to my blogpost about this case)

He called on the court to send a message that would stop others from launching similar attacks, which if left unchecked, would erode the rule of law here as they had in other democracies that the WSJA wanted Singapore to emulate.

Professor Woon said the three articles clearly insinuated that Singapore judges were biased.

There is space to criticise and debate policies, but 'leave the judiciary out of it. Judges are not political creatures, do not play favourites, (and) are neutral when it comes to politics', he said.

The Government is accusing Dow Jones Publishing (Asia) - which owns and publishes the WSJA - and Hong Kong-based editors Daniel Hertzberg and Christine Glancey of contempt over three articles published in June and July.

But Hertzberg and Glancey have applied to set aside the service of the court summons on them.

The court will hear their application at a later date. As such, only the case against Dow Jones is being heard this week.

Two of the offending articles are the newspaper's editorials, and the third is a letter from Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan.

These allege that the Singapore judiciary is not independent, is biased and lacks integrity, the Attorney-General's Chambers had said in September when it initiated proceedings against the WSJA and the editors.
As i've mentioned elsewhere, since the Attorney-General's at it, he might as well bring contempt of court proceedings against the two separate organisations who issued two separate reports which contain these as part of their conclusions,
The judiciary in Singapore has a good international reputation for the integrity of their judgments when adjudicating commercial cases that do not involve the interests of PAP members or their associates. However, in cases involving PAP litigants or PAP interests, there are concerns about an actual or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence, which casts doubt on the decisions made in such cases. Although this may not go so far as claimed by some non-governmental organisations, which allege that the judiciary is entirely controlled by the will of the executive, there are sufficient reasons to worry about the influence of the executive over judicial decision making. Regardless of any actual interference, the reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient. In addition, it appears that some of the objective characteristics of judicial independence, including security of tenure, separation from the executive branch and administrative independence may be absent from the Singapore judicial system - International Bar Association Human Rights Institute's July 08 report

A number of factors amply demonstrate that Singapore is not governed by the rule of law. These factors include: a demonstrated lack of independence of lawyers to stand between the state and citizens without fear of reprisals, inadequate statutory safeguards of the independence of the judiciary, a perception of executive influence over the judiciary in cases involving PAP interests, the stifling of public debate regarding issues of public importance through laws restricting freedom of assembly and freedom of expression to a degree incompatible with democracy, the threat of arbitrary arrest and detention through use of the ISA, and, the use, by members of the executive and the PAP, of defamation suits to punish and incapacitate government critics and members of opposition parties - Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada's Oct 07 report
I updated this blogpost at 1955hrs with these two reports:
Wall Street Journal raised doubts about Singapore judiciary: govt

SINGAPORE, Nov 4, 2008 (AFP) - The Wall Street Journal Asia has raised doubts about the integrity of Singapore's judiciary and should be held in contempt, the country's attorney-general told the High Court on Tuesday.

On the opening day of proceedings against the newspaper and two of its editors, Attorney-General Walter Woon said three articles it published in June and July this year had undermined the city-state's judiciary.

The articles were two editorials and a letter by Singapore pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan, which the attorney-general's office said alleged the judiciary was not independent, was biased and lacked integrity.

"This case is not about the freedom of speech per se," Woon said in his submissions to Justice Tay Yong Kwang.

"It is about the rule of law and the vital role that the courts and judiciary play in its maintenance."

Singapore does not stop anybody from criticising its laws but a line must be drawn when the criticisms become an attack on the integrity of the judge and the court, said Woon.

"We do not say you cannot criticise the laws... but you leave the judiciary out of it. (Our) judges are not political creatures... the fact that they apply Singapore laws does not make them biased," he said.

Facing contempt charges are the newspaper's publisher Dow Jones Publishing Company (Asia), Inc, international editor Daniel Hertzberg and managing editor Christine Glancey.

Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam, representing the Wall Street Journal Asia's publisher Dow Jones Publishing and the two editors concerned, argued that his clients had not undermined the court.

"It is necessary for your honour to consider whether there is one sole word that is in contempt of the court," he said.

After proceedings were adjourned for the day, Dow Jones released a statement defending its publication of the articles.

"Today in court we defended our right to report and comment on matters of international interest, including matters concerning Singapore," said the statement.

"We also argued that in this instance, what we published simply does not constitute contempt of court."

International human rights groups have accused Singapore leaders of using the courts to stifle dissent; they, in turn, argue this is necessary to protect their reputation from unfounded attacks.

Singapore's leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from defamation suits filed against critics and foreign publications.

Most recently, the Far Eastern Economic Review, was found by a High Court judge to have defamed the country's founding father Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The Far Eastern Economic Review is a sister publication of the Wall Street Journal Asia.

Singapore says WSJ wages two-decade judicial attack
By Melanie Lee, Reuters

SINGAPORE, Nov 4 - Singapore's attorney general accused the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday of waging a two-decade campaign to besmirch the Singapore judiciary, at the start of a contempt of court case brought against the newspaper.

Singapore's attorney general is seeking contempt proceedings against the publisher of the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal, News Corp's Dow Jones & Co, and two of the newspaper's editors, Daniel Hertzberg and Christine Glancey. "Freedom of speech in Singapore allows a person to criticise government policy and the decisions of the courts. There is no fetter on public debate about policy," attorney general Walter Woon said in court.

"When discussion of a court's judgments becomes an attack on a judge or the judiciary, then the law of contempt of court steps in," he said.

Singapore first took legal action against the Wall Street Journal in 1985 for contempt of court for an editorial commenting on the trial of late Singapore opposition leader J.B. Jeyaretnam. The Wall Street Journal apologised and was fined $7,600, according to newspaper reports.

Woon said he was looking for a "substantial fine" to be imposed on Dow Jones in the current case, but was not looking to cripple the company financially.

The case is the latest in a string of legal actions brought by the Southeast Asian country against foreign news organisations.

The attorney general's office said the two editorials published in the Asian Wall Street Journal, entitled "Democracy in Singapore" and "Judging Singapore's Judiciary," alleged that Singapore's judiciary was "not independent" and "is biased and lacks integrity".

The lawyer representing Dow Jones Publishing Co Inc, Philip Jeyaretnam, said the two editorials were opinion pieces, with a smart and informal tone that should not be read as sarcastic or disrespectful.

"Newspapers don't conduct 25-year campaigns, and the Wall Street Journal is certainly not part of any campaign," Jeyaretnam said in his opening remarks to the court.

Jeyaretnam, the son of J.B. Jeyaretnam and a former president of Singapore's Law Society, said the defence of fair criticism should apply and the publication had shown no malice.

"The readership of the Wall Street Journal Asia is a discerning one ... It expects to hear different sides of any debate and to make up its own mind," he said.

Singapore leaders have won damages, settlements and apologies in the past from foreign media groups when they reported on local politics, including The Economist, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah.. I was shock with that statement too but you've said it right.

jaw-dropping! LoL