Another judge refuses to rule on constitutionality of protest ban

January 4, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Dr Chee Soon Juan pressed another judge to make a ruling on the constitutionality of the Government’s ban on all outdoor political activity.

District Judge Thian Yee Sze, however, declined.

The matter took place in the on-going trial where Dr Chee is charged with two counts of speaking without a permit, once in November 2005 and the other in April 2006. There are a total of 6 other similar charges of which Dr Chee has been convicted for two. The remaining four are pending.

During the hearing which took place between 18-22 Dec 08 (this is a continuation of the hearing that started in July 2008), Dr Chee made the point that Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng’s announcement that the Government “stopped short of allowing outdoor and street demonstrations” is a violation of Article 14 of the Singapore Constitution which guarantees citizens the right to freedom of speech.

Judge Thian replied that she “has no jurisdiction over the constitutionality of executive policy.”

Dr Chee pointed out that this was not true as another district judge had previously ruled on the constitutionality of executive acts in 1994 over a trial involving Jehovas Witnesses in Chan Hiang Leng Colin v PP.

Still Judge Thian refused: “It is not within my purview to render a decision on this question.” She did not give the reason for her denial other than to say that she would give her grounds for her decision at the end of the trial.

This being the case Dr Chee asked the Judge to refer the matter to the High Court where a judge at a higher level can adjudicate the matter. Under the Subordinate Courts Act, a district judge can refer a constitutional question to the High Court.

But the Judge inexplicably said that there was “no constititutional issue that merits a reference to the High Court.”

So Judge Thian decided that she did not want to rule on the question of whether banning outdoor political activity was unconstitutional or not and yet she did not want to refer the matter to the High Court. If she is of the view that she does not have the power to rule on constitutional questions then why did she not refer the matter to a higher court?

In another trial involving the protest during the WB-IMF meeting, District Judge Toh Yeong Cheong also deferred ruling on the constitutionality of the ban on protests and, like his sister Judge, refused to refer the matter to the High Court.

The hearing could not conclude by the schedules date of 22 Dec 09 and parties have to return to court to pick new dates to continue. Mr Yap Keng Ho is the other defendant.