District Judge John Ng imposed a $500 fine, or a 5-day imprisonment in default, for Ms Chee Siok Chin, Mr Chong Kai Xiong and Mr John Tan for taking part in the 1st WB-IMF anniversary walk in September 2007. Mr Gandhi Ambalam was fined $600 or 6 days jail in default.
The Judge had originally acquitted the activists for walking down Orchard Road because he could not see how such an activity fit the definition of a procession under the Miscellaneous Offences Act (MAO).
The AG’s Chambers appealed Judge Ng’s decision. High Court Judge Choo Han Teck sided with the prosecution and overruled Mr John Ng’s decision, ordering the DJ to sentence the activists.
This is despite his appointing an amicus curiae (friend of the court), Associate Professor of Law Ms Cheah Wui Leng, to assist him in arriving at the definition of procession under the MAO.
Ms Cheah had written in her submissions that This case raises a number of constitutional issues. The right to hold and participate in processions stems from the right to assemble ‘peaceably and without arms’ in Singapore’s constitution.
Constitutional rights should be given a ‘generous interpretation’ (Ong Ah Chuan [1980-1981] SLR 48). This does not mean that constitutional rights are absolute in nature. However, it does mean that the court should adopt a protective approach towards rights. Restrictions of right should not be easily assumed.
Read Ms Cheah’s submissions in full here.
The professor concluded that It is respectfully suggested that the MOA Rules refer to processions that are organised and cause-based nature, based on the findings of the lower court, the respondents’ behaviour does not fall within this definition. No matter, the defendants are guilty, Judge Choo ruled.
The bigger question is: Can a society be considered democratic if even a small group of five persons walking peacefully down the road in an orderly manner without posing a threat to anyone is illegal? And what does an undemocratic system say about the Judiciary?
…respect for and subjection to the law can only be sustained if a neutral institution exists to ensure that the law is respected and enforced. That institution, in all democracies, is the Judiciary. It is in this sense that the Judiciary is the “lynchpin of a democratic society and the rule of law”…The respect and support of the public is crucial for the independence of the Judiciary as an institution. In a democratic society, the respect and support of the public is, in fact, one of the best safeguards for the independence of the Judiciary as an institution. (emphasis original)