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Gag order on voyeur would have 're-victimised' his victims: Chief Justice

SINGAPORE — A continued gag order on the identity of 23-year-old voyeur Colin Chua Yi Jin could have added to his victims' trauma and hampered their recovery, given that all of them supported its disclosure, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said. 

Gag order on voyeur would have 're-victimised' his victims: Chief Justice
In his grounds of decision to dismiss an appeal by Colin Chua Yi Jin to reimpose a gag order on his identity, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said such a move would re-victimise the women whom he had photographed and filmed.
  • The Chief Justice said suppressing Colin Chua Yi Jin’s identity may add to his victims' distress
  • This was “wholly antithetical” to the purpose of a gag order, he said
  • Chua, 23, had pleaded guilty in July to taking voyeuristic videos of several female friends from 2015 to 2018
  • His appeal against a district judge’s decision to lift the gag order over his identity was dismissed in September

SINGAPORE — A continued gag order on the identity of 23-year-old voyeur Colin Chua Yi Jin could have added to his victims' trauma and hampered their recovery, given that all of them supported its disclosure, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said. 

On Sept 24, the Chief Justice had dismissed an appeal by Chua, who had filmed voyeuristic videos of almost a dozen female friends, to overrule the lifting of a gag order on his identity by a lower court. The full grounds of his decision was released to the media on Friday (Dec 24).

“It was clear to me that, far from protecting the victims, the gag order on the (Chua's) identity only served to re-victimise them,” he wrote.

When Chua pleaded guilty in July, the district judge lifted the gag order on his identity after all of his 11 victims gave victim impact statements asking for Chua’s identity to be revealed and said they consented to the risk of being identified when his name was published in the media.

In his grounds of decision, the Chief Justice noted that one victim said that she felt “very worried and powerless” when she saw Chua posting on social media with other female friends and wanted to warn these women of his crimes, but was legally forbidden to because of the gag order then. 

Another had said that the gag order made her feel complicit in Chua’s offences because she had introduced others to him.

In her impact statement, the victim said: “It made me feel guilty that people who had met him through my association could have been exposed to his cruel deeds. In the days after I was told about the offence, I kept thinking of who else might have been exposed to his deeds.”

Chua, a Singaporean undergraduate from a top British university, had admitted to seven counts of insulting a woman’s modesty and one of possessing obscene videos.

From 2015 to 2018, he took upskirt videos and photos and filmed his victims showering. One such video was taken at a hotel room where he and several friends had stayed after their junior college’s prom night.

While the gag order on Chua has been lifted, there is still a gag order covering his victims’ identities, their relationship to him and the names of the schools they attend.

‘BOUND TO FAIL’

On Friday, Chief Justice Menon said that suppressing Chua’s identity may well compound the victims' distress, rather than alleviate it.

This, he said, was “wholly antithetical” to the purpose of a gag order, which is usually imposed to protect the identity of victims or other innocent parties during court proceedings.

Gag orders encourage witnesses and victims to testify candidly by shielding them from public scrutiny, he said. 

They also minimise “re-victimisation” by sparing victims the further trauma of unwanted scrutiny and embarrassment, which encourages victims to report offences, he added.

During the High Court hearing on his application, Chua’s lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan had argued that it was in the victims’ best interest to have Chua’s name suppressed so that their own identities would not be revealed. 

The Chief Justice rejected his argument, saying: "Indeed, the tremendous irony of (Chua) insisting on the victims’ protection will not escape anyone. While Mr Murugaiyan paid lip service to the well-established principle that a gag order is imposed solely for the benefit of victims, this application was, in truth, brought for (Chua’s) benefit and advanced under the guise of protecting the victims.”

He said Chua’s application was “wholly self-serving” and that he clearly had no genuine interest in protecting the victims, adding that it was “bound to fail”.

Even before the latest dispute over the lifting of the gag order, the case had seen some twists and turns, notably when the prosecution and defence sparred over whether Chua should be allowed to return to the United Kingdom for his studies. 

He was ultimately banned from leaving Singapore early last year. 

Chua will return to court at a later date for sentencing. He had earlier been found to be unsuitable for probation.

Adult offenders convicted of insulting a woman’s modesty can be jailed for up to a year or fined or both.

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