In less than a week, PAP whip Chan Chun Sing changes mind over whether MPs should write to courts or not

This despite sharing their 'longstanding' internal protocol that MPs 'may sometimes' send letters to court in 'urgent' cases.

Jeanette Tan | February 09, 2018, 07:54 PM

If you've been following this from last weekend, you'll be aware of the story of the lady who got her Member of Parliament (MP) to write to court to appeal against her jail term on her behalf:

It was thanks to The Straits Times's digging on this that we heard from labour chief Chan Chun Sing, also the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) whip, about the "longstanding" internal party protocol for its members of parliament (MPs) writing letters.

It includes, among other things, these points:

If the resident requests the MP to do so, he will write a letter to present the resident’s case. The letter will be based on the resident’s assertions, as the MP will usually not be in a position to verify the facts stated by the resident.

• Who the MP’s letter is addressed to will depend on what stage the case is at, and the nature of the request.

• The MP may write to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) under these two conditions — if charges have not yet been brought against a person, and if the MP is appealing for the AGC to not pursue charges.

• Where the case is already before the courts, and the appeal concerns a matter that is for the court to decide, such as an appeal for leniency in sentencing, MPs are generally advised to write to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw). MinLaw will then forward the letters to the courts for consideration.

• 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.

– via The Straits Times, Feb. 4 2018 (emphases ours)

So it does say quite clearly that "in urgent cases... if the court hearing is in the next few days, MPs may... give letters by hand to residents to be used in court".


Enter retired district judge Low Wee Ping

But this was not to be left alone — retired district judge Low Wee Ping felt compelled enough to write a letter to The Straits Times's forum page:

Where he very pointedly pointed out the following, in summary:

  • The late Lee Kuan Yew had told all MPs — in writing, no less — that they should not be writing letters like that to the courts.

    • His reason: doing so would blur the clear separation of powers that should exist, between executive, legislative and judiciary.
    • Additionally: if, say, the resident succeeded in securing himself or herself a more lenient sentence, he/she may feel it is because of the action of their MP, and feel obligated to vote for the same MP in the next election.

And now, a change of mind:

We now have learned, again thanks to ST, that Minister Chan sent a follow-up memo to all PAP MPs on Friday, Feb. 9.

In brief, it says

  • "PAP MPs have as a norm refrained from writing to the Courts on behalf of their constituents",
  • The separation of powers between executive, legislature and judiciary "has never been in question" even when the Courts receives letters from MPs, whether directly or indirectly, and
  • He would like to remind PAP MPs not to write to the Courts on behalf of their constituents.

These are the key moments of the issue that occur chronologically this week, and we don’t know whether one report leads to another.

Nevertheless, everybody wins.

Even the postmen, with fewer letters to deliver.

Here's the text of Minister Chan's memo, seen by Mothership:

"The separation of powers between the Executive (i.e. the Government), Legislature (i.e. Parliament) and Judiciary (i.e. the Courts) is a fundamental principle of our political system that is enshrined in the Constitution. The PAP Government has always upheld this separation rigorously, and will continue to do so. PAP MPs must not do anything that may give rise to any misperception that they can influence or interfere in the judicial process.

Over the years, 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). This has been the general practice, and will remain so.

The Courts are in the best position to evaluate, holistically and impartially, the evidence presented and the merits of a case. The Courts have clear and strict procedures to uphold the independence and integrity of the judicial process. The separation of powers has never been in question even when the Courts have received a letter from an MP, directly or indirectly. Nevertheless, to avoid any doubt or public misperception, may I remind PAP MPs not to write to the Courts on behalf of their constituents.

Should you need assistance on exceptional cases or further advice on this matter, please refer your queries to MinLaw and Party Whip."

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