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Kangaroo T-Shirts and the Established Pecking Order

Three of my friends: John Tan Liang Joo, Muhammad Shafi’ie Syahmi Bin Sariman, Isrizal Bin Mohamed Isa were convicted of contempt of Court.

John Tan was sentenced to 15 days imprisonment and Rizal and Shafi’ie 1 week’s imprisonment in the High Court before the Honourable Justice Judith Prakash at Court 6B yesterday. The 3 contemnors were also ordered to pay S$5,000/- costs each and disbursements to the Attorney General.

I represented Muhammad Shafi’ie Syahmi Bin Sariman in the case and this is my side of the story.

Their indictment was for wearing shirts depicting the picture of a kangaroo in Judge’s robes.

Right from the start, when the picture came to be published and police investigations began, there were different views and interpretations. Some never saw anything wrong with that shirt. Some felt it was open to interpretation. Some felt that it was clear.

In my opinion, the only plausible interpretation of the image is obvious but it is not the most pressing issue of concern to me. As an officer of the court, there were more serious implications flowing from the manner in which the case developed and was prosecuted.

In this case, the scandalising material is not in the form of an article but the image of a kangaroo in judge’s robes. The image on the T-shirt was found to be material contemptuous of the Court.

As far as the law was concerned, it is clear that all cases where there was contemptuous material which scandalises the Court is published – the publisher of the offending material will be liable for contempt as well.

There is absolutely no defence available to the publisher [who does so in the course of trade and for profit] of any form, be it inadvertence, lack of intention or knowledge or even any attempt of fair comment or justification.

The glaring facts of the case are as follows:

26th May 2008, the trio donned their kangaroo t-shirts.

27th May 2008, the Straits Times published an article on the suit between Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong and SDP, Chee Soon Juan and Chee Siok Chin and the article carried the picture of the trio in the Kangaroo t-shirts.

The Police, either acting on their own accord or at the direction of the Honourable Attorney-General, initiated investigations into the actions of the 3 kangaroo shirts sometime in June 2008.

Pursuant to the investigations being conducted, the SDP carried an article on 22nd June 2008 on its website with a picture of the trio as a matter of fact on the investigations being conducted. This was done in the same manner as it is in respect of reporting by the Straits Times [but not in the course of trade or for profit].

At the first hearing on 4th November 2008, i submitted to the Court and copied to the Attorney General’s DPPs my submission for Shafi’ie with the clear position that if Shafi’ie was guilty of contempt, the Straits Times would be guilty of even greater contempt and that there was no reason why the Attorney General is not taking action against the Straits Times.

This position was made clear for a good 20 days before the hearing came to be heard on 24th November 2008.

On 24th November 2008, I presented my submissions the Deputy Solicitor General presented his submissions. The Honourable Justice Judith Prakash found the trio guilty of contempt of Court. The Court adjourned the matter till 27th November 2008 for consideration on the punishment to be meted out.

The mainstream media then carried again the reports relating to this indictment. But in doing so there were some very glaring points which they had omitted giving, thereby concealing the full story, especially in the case of Straits Times.

I had as solicitor on record for Muhamman Shafi’ie cited to the Court and to the Attorney-General’s Chambers that action by the Straits Times in publishing the offending picture of the T-shirt is in itself contempt with no defence whatsoever at law: no justification, no fair comment defence unlike that in defamation cases.

This legal position was clear in all the legal precedents English, Commonwealth and local. This formed the trust of my argument was that Straits Times being the publisher ought to be taken to task.

The Straits Times obviously wanted to play down this point. In its report of 25th November 2008 by Goh Chin Lian, it sought to portray that the three contemnors had attempted to push the blame to the press for printing the photograph.

It obviously did not report on the fact of my representation of Shafi’ie as well as the point of law which was so very clear.

Yet disingenuously, it chooses to follow a path that confirms that my reading of the law and submission thereon was correct.

If my opinion is incorrect, why did not the Deputy Solicitor General and his 4 DPPs refute this point?

If my opinion is incorrect, why would the Straits Times in its reports of 25th November 2008 refuse to republish the said picture but instead used other pictures of the trio taken on a separate occasion?

If my opinion is incorrect, why did Today’s report on 25th November 2008 so strategically crop the photo until the Kangaroos were out of sight?

If my opinion is incorrect, why would neither newspaper publish the same picture on its reports of 25th November 2008 and 28th November 2008?

In fact, i would say that it is wise of them to not every publish the offending image ever again.

As an officer of the Court, i would thought that the brazen contempt by Straits Times would be very so clear to the Attorney General’s Chambers but this was not. It is very disappointing to say the least least that the Deputy Solicitor General plus 4 other DPPs refused failed and or neglected to address this point.

It is my view that it is manifestly is wrong for “the guardian of public interest and defender of the Judiciary” to overlook brazen publication of contemptuous material by the government sanctioned media and instead choose to put the latter on the pedestal.

As correctly pointed out by the Deputy Solicitor General, the Judiciary is unable to come forward to defend itself. It is, therefore, the duty of the Attorney General’s Chambers to do so.

Therefore, should the Attorney General’s Chambers steadfastly refuse to haul the Straits Times into Court for punishment for contempt, then their attack on the judiciary goes unpunished and the mainstream media will be due to its links with the PAP be emboldened to adopt a cavalier attitude towards the Judiciary in its reporting so long as it perceives that it is correctly screwing the opponents of the PAP.

As such, and until the Attorney-General’s Chambers decides to do something to defend the honour of the Supreme Court, there is nothing that the Honourable Justice Judith Prakash as well as the other honourable members of the bench to do anything with regards to the Straits Times.

From this selective prosecution of persons and the continued inaction of the Attorney-General’s Chambers towards the Straits Times, we can surmise that a certain pecking order vis-a-vis the two has been established.

None of the media reports, CNA and newspapers had mentioned that the Attorney General’s Chambers had chosen request at the end of its submissions a jail term of up to 3 months and S$30,000 costs to be paid jointly and severally by all 3 contemnors.

The $30,000 costs was submitted by the Deputy Solicitor General to be an appropriate figure for the present case because this was what the Attorney General obtained before the Honourable Justice Tay Yong Kwang when the Wall Street Journal case was argued successfully against Philip Jeyaretnam SC.

In the end, the Honourable Justice Judith Prakash had given only 15 days and 7 days jail sentences. She further awarded only S$5,000/- costs each to the Attorney General’s Chambers. In doing so, we do not know whather Justice Judith Prakash had in mind another other contemnor who would be deserving of the 3 month imprisonment and S$30,000 costs as suggested by the Deputy Solicitor General.

I cannot surmise how the Honourable Attorney General, the Deputy Solicitor General and the rest of the AGC’s DPPs and APPs think but It is certainly not flattering for an institution of public nature, the illustrious office of the Attorney General, to be perceived by the public to be restrained and in awe of a mere Straits Times.

It would certainly be even more unflattering for the Honourable Judiciary in the light of the glaring facts of selective prosecution view “the Guardian of Public interest and Defender of the Judiciary”, the Attorney-General’s Chambers in the same manner.

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November 28, 2008 - Posted by | Politics

4 Comments »

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