The Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill was introduced in Parliament today for first reading by the Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam.
The law of contempt of court as it stands today, ensures that court orders are obeyed, that the right to a fair trial is preserved for everyone, and that the trust in the judiciary is not eroded by attacks on its integrity. The new Bill will set out the law of contempt of court in statutory form. That will provide greater clarity and certainty on what constitutes contempt.
Key features of the Bill
The key features of the Bill are as follows:
i. Defines contempt of court
There are three main types of conduct which amount to contempt of court, in the law as it stands today. The Bill sets them out. First, disobeying court orders, such as refusing to pay a sum of money ordered by the court. Second, publishing material that interferes with or prejudices on-going court proceedings, including prejudging issues in such proceedings. Third, making allegations of bias or impropriety against our judges, or impugning the integrity of the courts.
ii. Specifies defences
The Bill sets out and clarifies the defences to contempt of court. For example, fair and accurate reporting of court proceedings is not contempt of court. Reports made to the Chief Justice, the police, a law enforcement agency or other public authority concerning a judge’s alleged misconduct or corruption are also not contempt.
iii. Sets out punishments
The Bill sets out a framework of punishments that can be meted out by the Courts.
Currently, the law of contempt of court is based on case law. What constitutes contempt and the available defences to contempt are based on case law.
The Bill will consolidate the key elements of the law of contempt into statute. The boundaries of contempt – what is permissible or not permissible to do or say – will not change.
Stakeholders, including the Judiciary, the Law Society of Singapore, the media industry, legal practitioners, civil society and academia, have been actively consulted in the drafting of the Bill.