January 21, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

IT IS not what the Court of Appeal said about the Protection of Harassment Act that is important, but what the G is going to do.

The Court of Appeal said the G cannot be defined as a person under the Act, that is, it is not an entity which could feel emotionally or psychologically distressed by falsehoods. It also held that The Online Citizen (TOC) need not notify its readers about the falsehoods which it had published regarding Dr Ting Meng Choong’s allegations that Mindef was out to do him in.

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Now, this was a two-to-one judgement with Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon holding the dissenting opinion. The other two judges Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang said that a reading of Parliamentary reports when the Bill was going through Parliament in 2014, showed that Law Minister K Shanmugam was focused on giving “people” a “low-tier remedy” against harassment. Mindef is not “people” and has plenty of resources to make its side of the story heard, they said.

Here comes the Law ministry itself.

It said that the G’s policy was to “allow natural persons, as well as the Government and corporations” to use the Act. (So it seems the two judges mis-read Mr Shanmugam? Or did he mis-speak?)

It noted the courts had agreed that TOC had indeed published falsehoods such as Dr Ting’s accusation that Mindef had deliberately infringed his patent on a medical device and was waging a “war of attrition” by dragging out a trial to wear him out financially.

Although TOC had published Mindef’s response in full and linked it to the Dr Ting article, Mindef went to court to get TOC to make clear that the article contained false statements of fact, so readers would know immediately on reading.

The case went from District Court to High Court to the apex Court of Appeal with the majority ruling that only “natural person can rely on the provision to get those who have published falsehoods to also publish corrections and the true facts”.

This is an interesting case which touches on who can use the law to press publishers into making corrections, even if the erroneous or misleading story doesn’t distress any one person emotionally or psychologically.

The two judges had read Mr Shanmugam’s answers in Parliament in one way, while CJ Sundaresh Menon read it in the opposite way. For example, what to make of Mr Shanmugam’s answer to Workers’ Party Pritam Singh’s question on whether the “persons” referred to in Bill could be corporate entities?  Mr Shanmugam’s swift response was to refer to the Interpretation Act which, by the way, would be a yes.

The two judges said his answer was sandwiched between other responses and his speech was mainly about redress for victims. It was, they said, a “generic answer”. The CJ, however, said that in the absence of clarity, it was the Interpretation Act that judges must turn to for answers.

Likewise, is the existence of falsehood enough to justify the courts taking action? The two judges said it would not be “just and equitable” and came down on the side of TOC which they said had tried to give a balanced picture by publishing its response and providing a link

“Additionally, Mindef was anything but a helpless victim. It is a government agency possessed of significant resources and access to media channels. In the present case, Mindef was able to put across its side of the story through traditional media as well as on its Facebook page.”

CJ Menon, however, thought that TOC’s actions were “insufficient” and “inadequate” to draw attention to draw attention to the falsehood and the true facts in the case. In his view, getting TOC to merely notify readers that the article had false statements was a “low-level restriction”.

Now, the Law ministry didn’t describe the article as “fake news”, which it said “has become a major problem for many societies” and destructive of the institutions of democracy.

“The Government notes the dissenting judgment of the learned Chief Justice, and the reasons the Chief Justice has given for his views. The Government will study the judgment, and consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods.”

Oh dear. What’s next?

 

 

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by Bertha Henson

BECAUSE he happens to be a Senior Counsel? Mr Tan Chee Meng is the Deputy Chairman of big-time law firm WongPartnership and you would have thought he knew enough about Singapore law to know that his sons must serve their National Service obligations as Singapore citizens.

Never mind that. What’s curious is why The Straits Times (ST) chose not to name him in its article, when Channel NewsAsia and TODAY did. One reason could be it felt that Jonathan Tan Huai En’s evasion of National Service (NS) for 10 years had nothing to do with his family? Yet, family was the reason Tan, now 28, said he had to keep from donning a Singapore Armed Forces uniform.

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Along with his mother and two siblings, he had migrated to Canada in 2000. That would have made him about 12 years old. In fact, the prosecution made much of how he completed his primary school education here.

One reason for moving: He couldn’t cope with Chinese language classes here. And the reason for staying there: He had to look after his mother who was suffering from depression and felt a duty to take care of his younger brother, now 25.

Why didn’t the father go along with the family? According to news reports, it was “due to a lack of employment opportunities overseas”. Well, well. Maybe legal eagles aren’t so mobile after all.

Tan received Canadian citizenship in 2005, and continued to study and work there, graduating from the University of British Columbia with a Master of Engineering in Clean Energy and getting a job at a multinational corporation. He never renounced his Singapore citizenship.

Then duty called. In 2005 and 2006, notices to register for NS were served on him three times and visits made to his father’s registered Hillview home here. It isn’t said in news reports what the senior Tan told Mindef then. Three years later in 2009, however, the lawyer called to say that his son wanted to renounce his citizenship and asked if his liability could be waived. The answer was no. Jonathan had been classified as a defaulter and had to serve his NS before anything could be done about his pink IC.

Tan’s defence is that he only knew of his NS liabilities in 2013, when his grandfather fell gravely ill and Tan wanted to visit him. His mother then told him that he would be arrested upon setting foot in Singapore. So it seems he is ignorant of the law and his parents had never said anything about the NS call-ups…

Tan returned on May 5, 2015, and reported to Central Manpower Base (CMPB) the following day. He enlisted last January. His younger brother Isaac has also returned to Singapore and is under investigation. Why did he return? Said Tan’s lawyer: “The only reason why he’s back today is because he needs to resolve his issues, otherwise he’s in a state of flux (and) can’t renounce his citizenship.”

The prosecution is pushing for a five-month jail term.

 

 

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by Wan Ting Koh

MORE signs showing where you can use your e-bikes and personal mobility devices (PMDs) will soon dot road and path-sides, but what compensation can you really get if you are hit by these devices?

This was a question asked by Members of Parliament (MPs) during yesterday’s second reading of the Active Mobility Bill. Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said that with the Bill, there would be clearer rules governing the use of transport devices, including the classification of paths for pedestrian use and shared use.

Related: Word of the Day: Car-lite

In case you didn’t know, there are four different kinds of paths which will be demarcated soon. First, there is the footpath where you can ride your bicycles and PMDs. E-bikes are banned from this type of path. Then there is the cycling and shared path, where bicycles, e-bikes and PMDs are allowed. There is the pedestrian-only path. And finally, roads, where only bicycles and e-bikes are allowed.

The penalty for devices that go where they shouldn’t: a maximum fine of $1,000, or a three-months jail term, or both, for first-time offenders. This applies to PMD riding on pedestrian-only paths and e-bikes that go on footpaths. The same penalty goes for speeding on public paths.

For PMDs that go on the roads, however, users will be fined a maximum of $2,000, or a three-month jail term, or both, for first-time offenders.

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The heavy penalties come on the back of several high-profile accidents involving PMDs and e-bikes in the recent months. In September last year, 53-year-old Madam Ang Liu Kiow went into a coma after being hit by an e-scooter. She underwent two brain operations.

More than 700 cyclists and PMD users were caught for reckless riding since May last year, while Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said last March that the number of e-bike accidents increased from six in 2013 to 27 in 2015.

NMP Randolph Tan pointed out that too many signs might have its own problems.

Said Assoc Prof Tan: “If incidents increase and arguments about right of way become more prevalent, will we be seeing a call for more directional signs on pedestrians pathways?… A proliferation of signages will only spawn a new set of challenges. Right of way where pathways intersect with driveways could also lead to increase chances of disputes and accidents.”

What will also be more visible apart from signs: registration plates for e-bikes. Mrs Teo said that e-bikes will have to be registered to an owner, especially since these devices are more prone to illegal modification.

However MPs seemed to be more concerned about what recourse pedestrians could get if they are involved in accidents with these devices.

Some pointed out that PMD users, who aren’t required to be registered, won’t be identifiable in cases of hit-and-run accident.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Zainal Sapari renewed the call for mandatory third-party insurance, which was, last year, rejected by Mrs Teo as “too onerous and costly” for the vast majority of PMD users who were responsible.

She said in the Oct 10 session of Parliament last year that pedestrians injured in accidents involving these devices can get compensation through civil lawsuits or private settlements.

However Mr Sitoh disagreed yesterday, saying that civil lawsuits would be expensive and that victims in hit-and-run accidents with PMDs would have no recourse if the users could not be identified. He added that the effort and cost to get insurance “should not be an impediment” to implementing mandatory insurance.

The same concern about unidentifiable PMD users was echoed by other MPs, such as Ms Joan Pereira, who suggested that devices be “sold with packaged personal accident insurance” She also asked that the insurance be “tagged to the equipment and kept updated as long as they are in use”. This is so victims can be assured of compensation, she added.

To these suggestions, Mrs Teo replied that while third-party insurance was encouraged, it was not mandatory due to the “broad range of users” who use the devices, including those who use them only occasionally, or those who are less well-off.

“Insurance comes at some cost, and it is not an insignificant amount… it is not clear who should be targeted for mandatory insurance,” said Mrs Teo. She added that where cyclists and PMD users are at fault, they may be prosecuted and the court will consider compensation.

Currently, only NTUC income offers third-party insurance for users of PMDs, e-bikes and bicycles, among other devices.

 

Other issues raised by MPs:

Apart from signs and third-party insurance, MPs gave other suggestions in Parliament, including having PMD users sit for theory tests and having them don mandatory safety gear. Mr Yong, Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Zainal proposed that PMD users take a basic safety course.

Mr Ang also added that while one can travel with foldable bicycles and PMDs with greater ease, there remained a lack of parking and storage spaces in public places and buildings. He was also an advocate for protective gear to be made compulsory for PMD users.

Other MPs, such as Ms Chan and Mr Dennis Tan said that familiarity with road etiquette should be inculcated when riders first start riding, with particular attention given to the young and those still schooling.

Foreign workers using bicycles were also a topic with some of the MPs, with Mr Pritam Singh saying that a key challenge would be to “educate a large and transient foreign worker community” of cycling norms. Mr Tan added that the huge influx of foreign workers in the 2000s resulted in a huge increase in the number of people using bicycles. “Many also followed the cycling culture: ignored the road safety rules because of lax enforcement,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Henry Kwek and Dr Teo Ho Pin suggested means of educating the public and for enforcing the new rules. Dr Teo said a 24-hour hotline for complaints could be set up, for instance, on top of installing CCTVs. Mr Kwek suggested that advertisements of desired behaviours could be shown in cinemas and websites such as SGAG and Mothership.

 

Additional reporting by Lim Qiu Ping.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Black clock showing 8.30.

ELECTRIC bicycles will soon have to be registered to an owner, display license plates and riders will have to wear safety gear, buy insurance and face legislated fines and jail if they break any rules. This is all in addition to the laws regarding personal mobility devices (PMDs) and bicycle use, including speed limits, weight limits, and where they can be used, that are due to come into force later this year.

To match the harsher laws for PMDs, motorists found to have been modifying their vehicles may now face tougher penalties too in a Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill and punishments for reckless and dangerous driving have been upped. New laws that penalise vehicles left on the road in a dangerous manner are also being proposed, as well as a law against deliberately obstructing autonomous vehicles.

Parliament’s debate over transport issues also included a proposal to give the G the power to clamp down on private car services if drivers operate without proper insurance and licenses. If three or more such incidents happen in a month, authorities could have the power to block the service for up to a month.

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Grab has also made a new “law”. If you cancel too many of your Grab bookings, you’ll have to pay – $2. This applies for users who cancel more than 10 rides a week, because cancellations cause inconvenience to drivers and other users. Those who honour their bookings won’t be affected, of course, but those who believe that cancellations are part of the service, well, they will just have to pay for that service.

Uber already charges a fee of $2 to $10 if the cancellation is made five minutes after the booking, or if the rider is more than five minutes late.

Nearly half of Singaporeans don’t sleep enough on weekdays, a SingHealth survey conducted in 2015 found. Failing to get seven hours of sleep can affect the body’s immune system, memory, concentration and pose other long-term health problems.

The survey covered 350 people at two polyclinics and it was not clear how participants were selected. Singaporeans are often ranked poorly in international sleep surveys – earlier this year, TMG looked at 50 sleepy faces after one such report came out.

The SingHealth found that Malays and Indians were more likely to lack sleep than Chinese, and that certain habits were linked to a lack of sleep – studying, reading, surfing the Internet and playing computer games in the bedroom were related to sleep deprivation.

S-League clubs are in the spotlight again after the CPF Board sounded a warning to the clubs for failing to pay the reserve team CPF contributions for up to five years. One un-named club has made full restitution and claimed that it didn’t know that it had to pay CPF on allowances. Another club, also not named, said that “the rule has not been clear”.

Reserve team allowances for S-League clubs are typically up to $300 a month. And the S-League has been brought to task before on age-discriminatory employment practices and also for hiring players on 11-month contracts to avoid paying bonuses and other benefits.

Like that how to qualify for the World Cup, even though FIFA has expanded it from 32 to 48 teams?

Olympic swimmer Quah Zheng Wen is going to the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) to train and study. The UCB swim team, the Cal Bears, is led by coach David Durden, who has led the team to three NCAA wins in nine years.

Quah has his sights set on Tokyo 2020, after reaching the semi-finals in the 100m and 200m butterfly in Rio. His performance earned him a deferment from National Service to train for the next Olympics.

If his application for clearance to compete in the NCAA comes through, Quah will be competing against Joseph Schooling, who represents the University of Texas at Austin in the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Quah leaves for the US on Jan 12.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Lim Qiu Ping

THAT’S how Kalimahton Mohamed Samuri passed herself off – as a member of Brunei royalty. “Datin Sharinah” swanned around in fine cars, owned two adjacent bungalows and a restaurant. Enough people trusted her, including a diamond merchant.

But she was a cheat, who had another moniker, Pawnshop Princess. In 2000, the then 42-year-old was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for swindling the merchant and pawnshop owners out of $7.26 million.

Prison didn’t do her any good. She was back to new scams and was sent back to jail on Friday for swindling 15 people out of $3.9 million. Although her loot was half what it was earlier, she got a sentence that was twice as heavy, 12 years. She is now 55 and was in court in a wheelchair.

She is now 55 and was in court in a wheelchair.

Her modus operandi in the second round was rather different from the first, which required some pretty audacious acting.

 

“Career cheat”

In 1997, the real Kalimahton was a single-mother of three who owned a restaurant at Prinsep Street, called Ms Sharina’s Jalan Kayu Prata and Thai Seafood. She had a facade of wealth, making a home out of two adjacent bungalows at Punggol Seventeenth Avenue. Whichever way she managed it, Kalimahton convinced Madam So Sock Wah of K J Tiffany that she was a loaded Brunei princess.

A few successful transactions between the two grew into a friendship, and Madam So began leaving gems and jewellery with her on consignment, even delivering the valuables to Kalimahton’s restaurant and houses. There was a ring with 47 carats worth of diamonds, said to cost $1 million and belonging to someone else. There was another diamond ring, of $140,000; a $135,000 tiara; a diamond and emerald necklace, ring and earring set priced at $550,000. This was so Kalimahton could take her time to pick out what she wanted.

Instead, she pawned them in pawnshops round the island. So familiar a face was she to pawnshop owners that she was dubbed the Pawnshop Princess.

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The royal pretence had granted Kalimahton special favour among valuers at the pawnshops. She would make prior appointments and be chauffeured around in her Mercedes-Benz. Her transactions were made in the backroom because her items were too important to be dealt with over the counter. Pawn slips were signed off using “Kalimah Ton”, with “Ton” explained away as a title.

Pawnshop staff had qualms about her. She was constantly jiggling her legs, a sign of nervousness. Or someone would remember the Malay noble title is “Tun”, not “Ton”. Yet these voices were subdued by Kalimahton’s glamour.

She was fair-skinned, plump, and beautiful. She was stylish and well made-up, wearing collars and cuffs of baju kurung that were sewn with golden thread; “just like a princess”, a valuer then with Fook Hin Pawnshop in Geylang Road was reported to have said. “Datin Sharinah” was even considered flashy. Her manners were also praised, the way she had listened to people politely and attentively, and spoke with a soft and gentle voice.

She charmed the staff of the pawnshops so well that in one significant instance, she was allowed to redeem and walk off with $4 million worth of jewellery without first getting her $6 million cheque – which turned out to be a dud – cleared.

Her web of deception had been extensive, using near to 40 pawnshops for pawning or re-pawning of gems and jewellery. The money made from such transactions was used to perpetuate her lie. As long as she had passed Madam So and returned the pawnshops a cut, no one was wiser to the truth. Otherwise, Kalimahton had spent to upkeep a lavish lifestyle. Until Madam So reported her to the police in November 1999.

Roll the reel to more than a decade later, the period between 2012 and 2015.

Kalimahton passed herself off as an upper-class Indonesian wife and heiress (with her inheritance unfortunately detained by authorities there). Or, she was a representative of wealthy buyers from Malaysia who were interested in luxury goods from Singapore. In another story, she could offer favourable exchange rates for foreign currencies. And depending on who one might ask, she was into premium rice or property investment.

However, the victims this round were not jewellery merchants and pawnshop valuers with access to goods worth millions. Instead, they were pickings from the simpler community: a housewife; a retiree; a scuba diver; a customer service officer; a fishmonger; crane operators; taxi drivers. What they had was their life savings.

What they had was their life savings.

Kalimahton knew one of them, a taxi driver, because she was a regular customer. She managed to extract $450,000 out of him over a year for some “lot investment” scheme, assuring him that he could earn $50,000 for every $100,000 invested. A pair of sisters (the customer service officer and the retiree) sank a total of $852,000 into the rice and forex investment schemes.

Again, victims did not suspect duplicity while Kalimahton had been able to deliver on her promise of profits. She simply moved the money around from one victim to another as supposed investment returns. Of the $3.9 million she had managed to milk, $1.14 million was returned.

The rest of the spoils were spent on herself. She had been gambling and owing debts.

Kalimahton had admitted to 20 of the 69 cheating charges, where each could have her fined and locked up for up to 10 years. Calling her a “career cheat”, Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min called for a stiff sentence of 12 to 14 years imprisonment.

Her sentence has been backdated to Nov 21, 2015 and even with a remission of jail term due to good behaviour, she would be in her early 60s upon her release.

Maybe she would decide to retire then.

 

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by Bertha Henson

IS IT too far-fetched to say that it took the death of a 14-year-old for a whole community to move? Probably not, since a new scheme to have adults accompany minors who get into trouble with the law seems to have been the direct, and most tangible, result of the suicide of Benjamin Lim.

Remember him? He was interviewed by police for allegedly molesting a girl, went home and jumped out of his window. He was subject of a debate in Parliament last March and a coroner’s inquiry into his death was held in August. You can read more about the case from the links below.

His death had raised questions of whether young people know enough of their rights or are emotionally geared for unwanted police attention, however nice the men and women in blue are.

So now, after a multi-agency review of police procedures, we have the Appropriate Adults Scheme for Young Suspects, to be rolled out from April, with an initial 100 volunteers. This means that if your kid, aged below 16, gets arrested by the police, chances are there will be an adult with him or her when he or she is being interviewed by the police.

Is it too far-fetched to say that it took the death of a 14-year-old for a whole community to move?

And in case you’ve been weaned on too many American cops-and-robbers television shows, no, you, the parent, cannot be the “appropriate” adult. That makes the Singapore scheme somewhat different from that in Britain where “familiar” faces such as parents and guardians can be the “appropriate adult”.

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The reason, according to officials at a briefing today, is because you, the parent, wouldn’t be a neutral party to police proceedings; you’ll probably end up overly-protecting your kid or threatening him with even more trouble at home. It has to be a stranger, trained to spot signs of emotional distress in kids when they run up against the law.

And don’t start thinking that you can talk to the adult after Ah Boy or Ah Girl is done with the cops to find out what happened. There’s the investigating officer for that.

Parents may wish to be there for their kids, but it’s still comforting that another adult, possibly a parent too, is holding Ah Boy’s hand. In any case, parents were never allowed at police interviews in the past. This should therefore count as an improvement.

Now, this is quite a massive project given that more than 7,000 young suspects were arrested between 2011 and 2015, or about four or five students a day. Adults on the scheme have to be on 24/7 standby and can be activated at any time. Singapore already has some experience, because a similar scheme for those with mental disabilities started in 2015. Administered by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled, it has 240 volunteers so far.

The social service organisation has yet to be picked for the job, but the training regime is likely to be similar albeit geared to deal with the sensitivities of young people.

Would having the scheme in place have made a difference to Benjamin? According to the coroner, the conduct of both police and school staff were “commendable“. Coroner Marvin Bay didn’t go so far as to recommend such a scheme, but made suggestions on improving the communications between the young people and the police, like telling them exactly what sort of trouble they are in.

 

Not a liaison

What would the AA’s relationship be with the young people’s kin?

Benjamin’s parents went public about their distress at what they saw as unsympathetic treatment from the police and the school. Can the appropriate adult be the liaison between parents and officialdom?

That’s not the role, officials at a briefing today said. The end of the police interview marks the end of the AA’s job. And if there is another interview, another adult would be in place. So it’s more about being a calming presence for the young person during an important part of police procedures.

Officials wouldn’t give the breakdown of the 7,000 juvenile arrests by year, so we have no clue if the numbers are rising or falling and how many more “adults” would be needed. What was more assuring was the 15 per cent figure on the proportion of such young people who were actually charged in court.

It seems that for the most part, young people are let off with a ticking off or some kind of rehabilitation activity.

Some people may think this is mollycoddling the kids, or an acknowledgement of a lack of trust in police conduct and procedures. Maybe after two interviews, appropriate adults will even consider it time-wasting. After all, young people get up to all sorts of things.

Would having such an adult with Benjamin during the police interview be helpful? No one knows what went through his mind on the day of the suicide. But as a community, we can at least say we did the best we can.

So here’s the contact if you want to sign up: aays@ncss.gov.sg.

 

Read our articles to find out more about Benjamin Lim’s case:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Photo By shawn Danker
8:30 Clock face

ARE you done with your Christmas shopping yet? Orchard Road is thronging with last-minute shoppers trying to get all their gifting done. Retailers say that this season’s traffic and sales are higher than last year’s. Is it a comeback for the shopping belt?

Changi Airport is thronging too, with 195,000 travelers passing through its gates last Saturday – the busiest day ever in its 35 years of operations. That’s not the top yet: the record is expected to be broken this weekend during the Christmas break. The airport piled on resources to deal with the spike and it seems that everything is going smoothly for now.

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Blogger Amos Yee, though, isn’t having much luck at airports. He is reportedly being detained at the McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility, near Chicago, after landing at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. No reason was given for his detention. His mother Mdm Mary Toh said that he is seeking political asylum in the US.

The economy is showing a few bright spots – inflation last month bucked a two-year negative streak to come in flat, which could be a sign of prices normalising and returning to normal inflationary growth. Singapore has been trying to rein in housing prices for several years and oil prices have also begun to recover after a long low spell.

Factory output beat economic forecasts to grow by 11.9 per cent last month as well, with biomedical and electronics leading the charge. It was actually expected to shrink by 1.6 per cent.

Australian and German authorities have also busted new terror plots at home. Four men have been charged with planning to attack high-profile Melbourne public areas with bombs and guns. In Germany, two brothers from Kosovo have been arrested for planning an attack on a mall, just days after a deadly Christmas market truck attack that killed 12 and wounded 48.

Anis Amri, the man wanted for the terror in Berlin, was shot dead in Milan during a routine check at 3am. He shot one of the two officers at the police checkpoint before being shot by the other – a rookie cop. Questions remain about how he managed to slip past German authorities to end up 1,000km away. He has a criminal record and contacts in Italy, where first arrived as a refugee.

Finally, TMG wishes all our readers a merry Christmas in advance – we will be taking a break on the 25th and 26th!

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Jack Skellington alarm clock with hands pointing at 8:30

WE’RE not moving. Deal with it.

That’s the message some 30 households have for the Housing & Development Board (HDB) as the deadline looms for them to move out of Rochor Centre by the end of the year.

The centre will be demolished to make way for the new 21.5km North-South Expressway. Announced back in 2011, the news had caught many by surprise. For most of the residents, Rochor Centre, with its iconic multi-coloured blocks, was their first HDB home after moving out of the kampungs.

HDB said it would hand the site over to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) only “when it is completely vacated”, reported The Straits Times (ST). Major construction works are expected to begin next year.

Some residents told ST they couldn’t move because their new flats were not ready. Others appear to be holding out simply because they did not want to move.

Police moved quickly yesterday (Dec 21) in Indonesia to foil a terrorist attack planned for Christmas.

Three men were killed and a fourth was captured in a raid conducted in the residential area of South Tangerang, 25km outside Jakarta.

The men were planning to stab a police officer around the time of the Christmas holiday, then set off a bomb when a crowd gathered, according to ST. More than five bombs were found and detonated by police.

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Meanwhile, the hunt is still on for the driver of a truck who ploughed into a Christmas street market in Berlin on Monday.

German police say they are now looking for a Tunisian man after finding an identity document under the driver’s seat of the truck. Earlier, a Pakistani refugee had been arrested but was later released due to a lack of evidence.

The evidence was stacked, however, against Singaporean Yeo Jiawei, 33, who was convicted yesterday on all four charges of witness tampering in the ongoing 1MDB investigations.

The third to be convicted in Singapore, Yeo is best known as the former banker at the Swiss-based BSI Bank whose net worth ballooned from $2 million to $26 million in just one year. He will be sentenced this afternoon.

Yesterday’s conviction will likely help prosecutors argue their case against Yeo regarding additional charges related to cheating, money laundering, and forgery. These will be dealt with next year.

Speaking of millions, two women were charged in court yesterday for stealing $5 million from their workplace – the Singapore Statutory Boards Employees’ Cooperative Thrift and Loan Society.

Assistant manager Arni Ahmad, 41, and administrative executive Hanati Jani, 49, are accused of issuing false cheques and pocketing the $5 million between 2008 and 2013. Together, they face more than 700 charges of forgery, cheating, and criminal breach of trust, among others.

The case was reported in 2013 but this is apparently the first time since the women’s identities have been revealed. As Singapore’s oldest co-operative, founded in 1925, the society has about 3,000 members who are employees of statutory boards and the Civil Service.

No restitution has been made.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

QUEEN’s Counsels (QC) may be some of the best lawyers in the world, but our Senior Counsels (SC) are no less. So the only time QCs, a title awarded to top lawyers in the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth states, will be admitted here, is when the case requires specialist skills that are beyond the grasp of existing talent in Singapore, said the High Court last month.

This was in response to law firm Rajah and Tann’s application to bring in a QC to argue a US$129 million (S$185 million) arbitration award, reported The Straits Times (ST) last Monday (Dec 12).

But foreign counsels were not always restricted in Singapore. The restrictions only came into effect after the Legal Professions Act (LPA) was amended in 1991. The change was made because there was an increasing trend of QCs being used for cases that could have been done by local lawyers. This impeded the growth of local legal experts.

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Said then Law Minister S. Jayakumar in Parliament: “They [QCs] are obviously to be admitted for cases of complexity or difficulty where the needed skills or experience or the specialist knowledge is not readily available here.”

So the current stand of the High Court is consistent with the original intent of the amended LPA in 1991.

After the bill was passed in 1991, the number of QCs admitted halved to about 20 per year, according to an ST report in 1995. Between 1980 and 1990, an average of 40 QCs were admitted per year. ST reported that a total of 410 applications for QCs were made throughout the 1980s.

In October 1996, the criteria for QCs were further tightened for criminal cases. The aim was to eventually phase out QCs in criminal cases once there were enough Senior Counsels, Singapore’s version of the QC. In 1997, the Senior Counsel (SC) scheme took effect – 12 SCs were appointed. Today, there are 76 SCs.

A spokesperson for the Law Society said that there were a total of 17 applications for QCs in the past four years. It’s not clear how many were approved though. But QCs are usually brought in for commercial disputes with the occasional civil case, like defamation.

Here are some of the more well-known cases, in the past 25 years, for which applications for QC were made.

 

Defamation, QC approved

Then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, and 10 other People’s Action Party (PAP) members sued Workers’ Party Chief J. B. Jeyaretnam. They alleged that Mr Jeyaretnam, during an election rally on Jan 1, 1997, used words that painted them as dishonest without any proof.

Mr Jeyaretnam had argued for a QC, who specialised in defamationon the basis of the complexity of the case. Complexities included determining what Mr Jeyaretnam’s words actually meant, whether the audience knew to whom his words were directed at, and if he could even be held responsible for the publication of what he said when he was not the one responsible for publishing it.

The court agreed that the case was complex enough, and so approved the application for a QC to represent Mr Jeyaretnam in court.

Mr Goh won the suit. He was awarded $100,000 in damages, and Mr Jeyaretnam had to pay full costs as well. The other 10 PAP leaders agreed to be bound by the Judge’s findings that Mr Jeyaretnam words during the rally were defamatory. If they sought further damages, they would have to prove Mr Jeyaretnam was referring to them at the rally.

 

Defamation, QC rejected

Fast forward to 2014 when blogger Mr Roy Ngerng was sued for defamation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Mr Ngerng’s blog post alleged that the Mr Lee had criminally misappropriated monies from the Central Provident Fund. He eventually took it down and apologised after Mr Lee’s lawyer sent a letter, only to repost the same allegations in videos and other online posts. The court ruled that Mr Ngerng had defamed Mr Lee and so Mr Ngerng was required to pay damages.

Mr Ngerng then applied for a QC to represent him in the High Court hearing that would decide the damages he owed to Mr Lee. Mr Ngerng’s lawyer argued that it was the first time a blogger was being sued, and so it required a specialist to argue the case.

The Court rejected his application. Said Justice Steven Chong: “The fact that this was the first time that a blogger has been sued by a public leader might invite significant media attention, but that did not mean that the decision was of significant legal import.”

There were a few other reasons.

First, the assessment of damages was a straightforward task that local experts are qualified to deal with. It did not require foreign expertise. Second, Singapore has its own set of legal principles in the context of defamation and political culture – something a British QC may not necessarily be sensitive to.

Finally, with regards to the idea that Mr Ngerng needed a foreign lawyer to match the calibre of the lawyer representing Mr Lee, Justice Chong said that the “the touchstone for admission [of a QC] is ‘need'”, and not an “equality of arms” on both sides.

 

Patent, QC approved

In 1999, Singapore Airlines (SIA) and British Airways (BA) got into a tiff over the patent rights to first-class sleeper-style seats. BA first sent a lawyer’s letter to SIA alleging that SIA’s new first-class seats infringed the patent rights of BA’s design. SIA responded by suing BA for making groundless claims of patent infringement. BA countered by suing SIA for patent infringement. Both SIA and BA applied for a QC each.

Said BA’s lawyer: “The development of Singapore’s patent law is still in its infancy, and it would assist the court tremendously to have specialist counsel present the technical evidence, elucidate on what the law and practice is in the United Kingdom, and to guide the court in coming to its decision.”

Chief Justice Yong Pung How approved the applications since there were no objections from the Attorney-General as well as the Law Society. Furthermore, it seems the court agreed the case was sufficiently complex or approval would not have been granted.

Both SIA and BA eventually dropped the lawsuits, choosing instead to compete in the marketplace. There was no payment from either side.

 

Patent, QC rejected

Interestingly, in 2005, the request for a QC for a patent case was first approved by the High Court, only to be overturned by the Court of Appeal.

ThumbDrive manufacturer Trek 2000 alleged that its patent for its thumb drive was infringed upon by four companies. Trek 2000 won the suit in the High Court but three of the four companies appealed the decision and also, applied for a QC. The High Court approved the QC application, over-ruling the objections of the Law Society and Trek 2000’s lawyers. Their objections were basically about the lack of complexity of the case and that there were sufficient lawyers in Singapore to handle it.

Addressing the objections, Justice Judith Prakash had said that the “occasional admission in the right case is not going to damage the development of the local Bar, but will enhance its independence and competence.” She added that patent law was explored to a greater depth overseas and “foreign counsel who have spent many years specialising in patent law, can… be of great assistance to our local courts as they strive to develop patent law in Singapore.”

Trek 2000, backed by the Law Society, successfully appealed the High Courts decision to allow the rival companies to have a QC. The Court of Appeal agreed that the case was not complex enough. Furthermore, it could set off a trend where more QCs are brought in when there is no real need for them.

Trek 2000 won its lawsuit. The four rival companies were ordered by the court to stop selling the thumb drives. The damages and costs awarded to Trek 2000 is unclear.

 

Moving forward

In 2012 however, the LPA was amended to broaden the scope for QCs to be allowed in Singapore courts.

In proposing the amendment, Minister for Law K Shanmugam said that many SCs were from large firms that serviced many big corporate clients. As a result, SCs were unable or unwilling to take up any case against large corporate bodies leading to a lack of access to senior lawyers. The amendment was proposed to address this.

The courts have more discretion now. The high complexity of a case as a pre-requisite to approve QCs have been removed. Instead, the courts will consider if the foreign counsel is the equivalent of an SC and whether the counsel has special qualifications or experience relevant to the case.

The courts may also consider the nature of the factual and legal issues, the necessity for the services of a foreign legal counsel, the availability of local senior counsel and whether it is reasonable to admit foreign senior counsel for the case. You can read more here.

The use of foreign counsels however, will most likely be declined, unless there’s a special reason to allow them in cases involving constitutional law and administrative law, criminal law, and family law. This is because the legal principles in these areas are unique to Singapore and it’s doubtful that a foreign counsel can contribute more than a local counsel can.

 

Featured image State Courts of Singapore prior to renovations by Chensiyuan. (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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8:30 Clock face

HOW long should a person go to jail for beating up a police officer?

Is 10 weeks enough? Mr K Shanmugam doesn’t think so. What about seven years? More?

In a Facebook post, the Home Affairs and Law Minister yesterday (Dec 16) urged his ministry to re-look legislation for causing hurt to a public servant. Under the current law, offenders can be jailed up to seven years, caned and fine.

The minister thinks that isn’t good enough.

“I have asked the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to relook at the legislation, to consider whether this is adequate,” he said.

“Anyone who attacks a uniformed officer should learn a lesson, which he will never forget.”

Mr Shanmugam’s remarks came after a young man was sentenced to 10 months’ jail on Tuesday for attacking a policewoman. Albin Lim, 25, had grabbed Corporal Ammy Ong’s neck, pushed her to the groun, and kicked her back. Cpl Ammy is 27.

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Image of screenshot of Facebook post

Last year, there were 344 cases of abuse against Home Team officers, almost one a day. This year, there have been 328 cases as of August.

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Speaking of harsher punishment, the High Court has decided it will be handing out heavier fines to employers who fail to ensure the safety of the workers.

In a 42-page written judgment, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon said the current fines have been too low – relative to how much they could actually be fined under the 2006 Workplace Safety and Health Act.

He said: “For future cases, the sentencing court should bear in mind that the legislative intent for the introduction of more severe penalties was to create a more palpable deterrent effect.”

The judge’s review of the sentencing framework under the Act was prompted by prosecutors in a recent case who argued that most of the fines meted out so far “fall below 30 per cent of the maximum (fine) of $500,000,” reported The Straits Times.

In that case, GS Engineering & Construction Corp had been fined $150,000 last year for a 2014 accident in which two workers fell to the deaths while working.

On Thursday (Dec 15), its fine was jacked up to $250,000.

Under the Act, the maximum fine of $500,000 is for first-time offenders and $1 million for repeat offenders. Under the previous Factories Act, the maximum fine was $200,000.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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