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Court to hear appeal against ministers’ fake news orders as soon as 9 days after challenge

SINGAPORE — Costs will be kept low and no court fees will be imposed for the first three days of hearing for individuals who appeal to the courts to challenge a minister’s order relating to fake news, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Tuesday (May 7).

After the proposed fake news laws were tabled in Parliament, concerns and criticisms were raised as some observers pointed out that the cost of appealing could be prohibitive and deter individuals and entities from doing so.

After the proposed fake news laws were tabled in Parliament, concerns and criticisms were raised as some observers pointed out that the cost of appealing could be prohibitive and deter individuals and entities from doing so.

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SINGAPORE — Individuals who appeal to the courts to challenge a minister’s order relating to fake news could have their cases heard as quickly as nine days after the challenge, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Tuesday (May 7).

He reiterated that costs would be kept "very low", with no court fees imposed for the first three days of hearing, addressing concerns that it could be onerous and costly for individuals to appeal against such an order.  

“I have previously said that the process that will be in place, it will be fast. The process will be simplified to allow individuals to appear and present arguments on whether the statements made are true or false,” he said in Parliament as he sketched out an overview of the appeal process which will be covered in a subsidiary legislation.

Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, which was tabled in Parliament in April and seeks to counter the spread of deliberate falsehoods, there is judicial oversight over the process.

Those accused of peddling falsehoods have the right of appeal to the High Court, with the courts having a final say in determining whether a statement made is a falsehood. Still, government ministers can take action in the time it takes to file a court application to quickly prevent the falsehood from spreading.

An appeal can only be made after the individual or organisation has gone to the government minister to cancel the order but the minister refused to do so.

Mr Shanmugam said that this is “consistent with the usual principle of exhausting administrative remedies, before resorting to a judicial remedy”.

APPEAL WILL BE ‘FAST AND SIMPLE’

Individuals applying to a minister will be provided a standard form online. The form must be sent to an email address, which will be set out in the order issued by the minister, who must then make a decision no later than two days after the form is received, he added.

“The appeal to court will be similarly quick”, noted Mr Shanmugam.

He pointed out that the appeal will have to be filed no later than 14 days after the minister decided not to cancel the order.

A standard form will be given to the individual to file in the High Court, which will then be asked to fix the hearing within six days if the individual immediately appears before a duty registrar to apply for an urgent hearing date.

The documents must then be served to the minister by the next day, with the individual to be provided with an email address to make it easy to serve the documents to the minister.

The minister must file a reply in court no later than three days after the appeal is filed and served.

A hearing will then be scheduled no more than six days after the court receives the application. This means that the court hearing can be as soon as nine working days after the challenge is made. 

Even so, the courts have a “general discretion to extend timelines where there is a good reason to do so," said Mr Shanmugam, who added that how long the hearing will take is a matter for the courts to decide.

No court fees will be charged for three days, though the “usual rate” will be imposed on further days of hearing. The courts will also have the power to waive the fees, the minister added.

“This should not be taken as a licence to abuse the process. The courts will still have the power to deal with parties in the usual manner, including how they conduct themselves.”

TODAY has reached out to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) for more details.

PROCESS MOST ‘COST-EFFECTIVE WAY’

Days after the proposed fake news laws were tabled in Parliament, concerns and criticisms were raised as some observers pointed out that the cost of appealing could be prohibitive and deter individuals and entities from doing so.

Saying that it was a “fair question”, Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong previously noted that there are existing processes in place for those who need financial help and support for legal services.

MinLaw also previously stated that the appeal process provided under the Bill is “the most cost-effective way”.

“Supposing instead of a directive, the Government has to make an application in court — then whether or not the person wishes, he has to go to court, and incur the expenses,” MinLaw added.

“That will be more costly, because everyone will have to be brought to court, even when the person knows it is false and does not wish to challenge.”

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