Judge rejects public assembly application

Singapore Democrats

High Court Judge Mr Quentin Loh has dismissed the application by Ms Chee Siok Chin, Dr Chee Soon Juan, Mr Seelan Palay and Mr John Tan to allow their case to be heard by the highest court in Singapore, the Court of Appeals.$CUT$

The four had been convicted by District Judge Kessler Soh together with others of public assembly without a permit on 9 August 2008 (see here). Their appeal was dismissed by Mr Quentin Loh.

The appellants wanted to bring the matter to the Court of Appeal because it was a matter of public interest. Under the rules, however, they had to first seek the permission of Judge Loh.

In arguing for the application, defence counsel, Mr Louis Joseph, submitted that the police had not provided any evidence to show that when the event took place on 9 August 2008, there was a real and imminent danger to national security.

Mr Joseph argued that the Justices in the House of Lords in the UK had ruled that in order for the police to deny citizens their right to peaceful assembly, they had to demonstrate that the assembly posed a threat to public order that was clear, real and imminent. The Law Lords rejected that a vague reference to some potential problem in the future was sufficient reason for the police to stop a public gathering.

This is trite, or settled, law in the UK and democratic societies around the world. The right of the people to peaceful assembly cannot be denied without good and specific reasons. Otherwise, it makes a mockery of the rights guaranteed by the constitution.

The PAP Government has repeatedly rejected applications for public gatherings citing “law and order” problems without giving specific circumstances that caused the police to believe that there would be a  breach of public order. 

Since Singapore’s legal system is derived from English common law, these decisions in the UK is a strong guide for the courts here, Mr Joseph said.

He also argued that the police had no power to say that, unlike commercial activity, political activity needed a permit. The Singapore constitution requires that everyone in the country be treated equally under the law and that the authorities cannot arbitrarily make such a discrimination. 

Judge Loh summarily dismissed the arguments, citing that the appellants had not canvassed these points in their appeal. He gave the defendants one week to pay their fines of $1,000 or serve a jail term in default.

This is another sad development for Singapore. Even as the courts in Malaysia have made several decisions in favour of the people, the Singapore courts continue to dismiss cases calling for the right of peaceful assembly to be respected.

This will not be the end of the matter. The SDP will continue to fight for the rights of Singaporeans, just like the rights of peoples all across the world, to assemble peacefully, speak openly and associate freely.

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