District Judge Chia Wee Kiat today ruled that the defence could not ask questions to show that the police had unlawfully discriminated against the Tak Boleh Tahan! (Can’t take it anymore!) protesters.
He also sided with the prosecution’s contention that the Ministry for Home Affairs’ declaration that it would not allow protests of any nature is not unconstitutional, this despite Article 14 of the Singapore constitution guaranteeing citizens the right to freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly.
The defendants had pointed out that the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) had also conducted a similar protest outside Parliament House in 2007 and 2008. Why was CASE allowed to stage their protest but not the TBT activists?
To add insult to injury, the Judge made these decisions listening only to the arguments of the prosecution but not the defence.
Yesterday Judge Chia had invited Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Isaac Tan to address him on the question of the constitutionality of the Miscellaneous Offences Act. He also wanted to hear the DPP’s arguments on why cross-examination by the defence about the police’s handling of the TBT application was irrelevant.
The DPP took the entire morning to research his case and then came back to court to present his findings. The defendants then asked for time to respond to the DPP’s arguments.
The Judge had to adjourn the hearing in the afternoon to allow Mr John Tan and Mr Shafi’ie to go the the Hight Court to attend a pre-trial conference regarding their contempt of court charge. The other defendants took the opportunity to prepare their arguments.
When the hearing resumed this morning, Dr Chee Soon Juan asked for more time to prepare his case because of the complex nature of the constitutional arguments: “I am consulting legal experts from overseas and I need more time to put together a proper rebuttal to the DPP on this matter.”
The other defendants, including lawyer Mr Chia Ti Lik, also requested for more time to prepare their cases.
Mr John Tan, who is acting-in-person, also argued that he needed time to prepare his arguments because he was at the Hight Court the whole of yesterday afternoon. “I did not take the afternoon off to conduct my own affairs. I am being charged for an offence and I had no choice but to go to the High Court,” he reminded the Judge. “As such I did not have time to prepare counter-arguments to the DPP’s points.”
Mr Shafi’ie also made the same point.
All this fell on deaf ears as Judge Chia ruled that no additional time would be given. Worse, the Judge immediately went on to rule in favour of the DPP’s arguments.
Dr Chee protested that this was highly irregular and prejudicial against the defendants’ cases: “A judge normally hears both sides of the argument before coming to a decision. In this matter you have only heard the prosecution’s arguments and come to a decision based on that.”
Dr Chee pointed out that the Judge could have ruled that he was not going to give additional time to the defendants but then allow them the opportunity to submit on whatever they had prepared.
Ms Chee Siok Chin asked Judge Chia to reverse his decision, “wipe the slate clean” and hear the defendants first before making his ruling.
The Judge refused saying: “I have made my ruling. You can now say what you want to say.”
Mr Gandhi Ambalam then pointed out the obvious: “What’s the point of saying anything when you have already ruled?”
Dr Chee reminded the judge that the defence hung on the fact that the police had discriminated against the TBT activists when it rejected the application. This was unlawful under the Article 12 of the Constitution which says that all persons must be treated equally under the law.
“By ruling the way you did, you have cut the legs from under our defence,” he told the Judge.
But Judge Chia Wee Kiat remained adamant and insisted the hearing continue over the vehement objections of the defendants.
Hearing continues tomorrow.