Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What constitutes "scandalising the court"

Does a statement that we have a "pliant court system" fall within the offence of scandalizing the court?

I believe that it does not. This statement is not directed at any specific judge in the exercise of his judicial function and is not interfering with the administration of justice.

It should be treated as a fair criticism under freedom of speech.

From Wikidedia.

In Singapore, the offence of scandalizing the court is committed when a person performs any act or publishes any writing that is calculated to bring a court or a judge of the court into contempt, or to lower his authority. An act or statement that alleges bias, lack of impartiality, impropriety or any wrongdoing concerning a judge in the exercise of his judicial function falls within the offence.

The High Court and the Court of Appeal are empowered by section 7(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap. 322, 2007 Rev. Ed.) to punish for contempt of court. This provision is statutory recognition of the superior courts' inherent jurisdiction to uphold the proper administration of justice. The Subordinate Courts are also empowered by statute to punish acts of contempt.

Although Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore protects every citizen's right to freedom of speech and expression, the High Court has held that the offence of scandalizing the court falls within the category of exceptions from the right to free speech expressly stipulated in Article 14(2)(a).

Some commentators have expressed the view that the courts have placed excessive value on protecting the independence of the judiciary, and have given insufficient weight to free speech.

In Singapore, an "inherent tendency" test has been held to strike the right balance between the right to freedom of speech and the need to protect the dignity and integrity of the courts.

To establish the offence, the claimant must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the act or words complained of have an inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice.

The inherent tendency test has been held to be justified by the small geographical size of Singapore, the fact that there is no jury system and that judges have to decide both questions of law and fact, and that the test renders proof of damage to the administration of justice unnecessary.

Although Singapore law does not set out the sanctions that may be imposed for contempt of court, it is accepted that the courts may impose reasonable fines and imprisonment. To decide what punishment is appropriate, the culpability of the offender and the likely interference with the administration of justice are considered. The only defence available to the offence of scandalizing the court is to prove that the allegedly contemptuous act or statement amounts to fair criticism, which involves showing that the criticism was made respectfully and in good faith.

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