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Judge rejects SDP’s bid for first Pofma appeal to be heard in open court

SINGAPORE — A High Court judge on Thursday (Jan 16) morning rejected the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)’s arguments for their appeal against Manpower Minister Josephine Teo’s correction direction to be heard in open court.

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan told reporters that the outcome was “very disappointing”, and that Justice Ang did not see a special reason for the matter to be heard in open court.

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan told reporters that the outcome was “very disappointing”, and that Justice Ang did not see a special reason for the matter to be heard in open court.

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SINGAPORE — A High Court judge on Thursday (Jan 16) morning rejected the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP’s) arguments for their appeal against Manpower Minister Josephine Teo’s correction direction to be heard in open court.

The case is the first court challenge against a minister’s directive since the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) came into effect in October last year. 

The appeal would be heard in chambers before Justice Ang Cheng Hock on Thursday. This means that members of the public and the media are not allowed to attend.

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair told reporters that the Attorney-General’s Chambers — which is representing the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) — argued for the case to be heard in chambers.

The courts have previously ruled that some constitutional matters, such as the Elected Presidency, should not be heard in open court either, Senior Counsel Nair said. The underlying facts of the case are not in dispute as the Government and SDP are relying on the same set of statistics, he added.

Separately, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan told reporters that the outcome was “very disappointing”, and that Justice Ang did not see a special reason for the matter to be heard in open court.

“My point was that there can be no more special reason than this case involving Singaporeans’ very survival and job security… there is immense public interest,” Mr Chee said.

Claiming that the MOM’s case “is about interpretation and opinion”, he argued that “if there is more than one interpretation and opinion, the public should hear more sides”.

The Supreme Court previously said in response to TODAY’s queries that the appeal was arranged to be heard in chambers instead of an open court because the Pofma appeal was filed by way of an originating summons. 

This is in line with Pofma rules and also part of court rules.

SDP had said on Facebook earlier this week that it intended to apply to the judge to have the case heard in open court. 

On Wednesday, SDP said it would present three arguments to the court:

  • A government ministry and political party contesting in the next General Election are involved in the case, which is about the job security of Singaporeans — a subject of great concern to the public.

  • When Pofma was enacted, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said: “Trust in institutions is important for society’s well-being and prosperity.” This includes the courts and members of the public should be able to attend and listen to the arguments for themselves. 

  • There is legal precedence for such hearings to be heard in open court. This includes the civil suit between The Ngee Ann Kongsi and Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan — both organisations are sparring over occupancy of the Teochew Building. The High Court ordered last November for it to be heard in open court involving a trial.

THE POFMA CASE

The SDP’s challenge comes after Mrs Teo rejected the party’s application to cancel three correction directions issued to the party, over an article and two Facebook posts that the Government said contained falsehoods and a misleading graphic.

Under the law to tackle fake news, a correction direction is issued to a person who has communicated a falsehood that affects the public interest.

It requires the recipient to publish a correction notice with the facts, but does not require the post to be taken down or edits made. The order also does not impose criminal sanctions.

The SDP corrected the article and two posts before announcing that it would appeal to the manpower ministry. 

Mrs Teo’s directive was the third Pofma action taken by ministers. In all, four ministers have taken action under the new law. 

The first was against Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, followed by one against alternative website States Times Review by Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung was the fourth and latest minister to do so, issuing a correction direction to opposition politician Lim Tean.

Related topics

Pofma fake news SDP MOM Josephine Teo

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