25 February 2018
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PAP MPs told not to write to courts

Straits Times
10 Feb 2018
Yasmine Yahya

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has told its MPs not to write to the courts on behalf of their constituents so as to "avoid any doubt or public misperception" about the separation of powers between the different branches of government.

In an internal memo yesterday, party whip Chan Chun Sing said PAP MPs have, as a norm, refrained from writing to the courts on behalf of their constituents.

"When approached by constituents over matters that come before the courts, PAP MPs may write to MinLaw (on procedural issues) and Attorney-General's Chambers (on prosecutorial issues)," he wrote. "This has been the general practice, and will remain so."

Should the MPs need assistance on exceptional cases or further advice on the matter, Mr Chan said they should approach the party whip and the Ministry of Law. The memo was released to the media.

The question of when MPs should write to the courts arose after a judge took issue with a letter by Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min to the State Courts, which downplayed a motorist's culpability in a traffic accident.

In judgment grounds released two weeks ago, Justice See Kee Oon highlighted the misrepresentation of facts as "somewhat troubling".

Last week, in response to queries from The Straits Times, Mr Chan said MPs should write letters of appeal directly to the courts on behalf of residents only in "urgent cases".

"In urgent cases, such as if the court hearing is in the next few days, MPs may sometimes use their discretion to give letters by hand to residents to be used in court," he had said.

The discussion prompted a retired district judge, Mr Low Wee Ping, to write in to The Straits Times Forum page on the matter.

In the letter published on Tuesday, he said that when he was the Subordinate Courts' registrar in the 1980s, he was instructed by then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin to ignore such MP letters and not send them to the judges, and to return them to the PAP whip.

He wrote: "The reason, I was told, was that founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had instructed all MPs (in writing) that they should not be writing such letters to the courts."

Mr Lee's view was that such practices would blur the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, added Mr Low.

In his letter yesterday, Mr Chan said the separation of powers has never been in question, even when the courts have received a letter from an MP, directly or indirectly.

Mr Chan also stressed: "The courts are in the best position to evaluate, holistically and impartially, the evidence presented and the merits of a case as well as have clear and strict procedures to uphold the independence and integrity of the judicial process."

Several PAP MPs said the memo made the party's position on the matter very clear.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan said if residents were to ask MPs to write to the courts directly on their behalf, the MPs would have to explain that they are not in a position to do so.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said: "That is the way we have built our system, and it is our responsibility to uphold that."

Dr Lam could not be reached for comment.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.