By International Human Rights Lawyer M Ravi
It has recently been reported that lawyers in Singapore are divided over a police statement on the past offences of a man who circulated videos of PM Lee Hsien Loong’s eldest son.
This is in relation to a media statement by the police, who revealed that the man had been convicted of taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent in 2014. In my opinion, this act by the police makes any subsequent investigation of the man concerned unconstitutional as the prosecution process has been irreversibly tainted.
Constitutional Rights involved
Article 9(1) of the Constitution provides that no one shall be deprived of his liberty save in accordance with the law. Fundamental to this rule are the rights to presumption of innocence, due process, and right to a fair trial- all of which have been irreversibly breached by the police’s media statement.
All of the mentioned rights diverge to give an accused person the constitutional protection that his or her past convictions will not be made available to the Court until he or she is sentenced. This is to ensure that they are not prejudiced in the course of proceedings with matters of no relevance to the charge at hand.
The Constitution does not make any exceptions for ‘special cases’ dealing with security concerns or in matters involving the son of the Prime Minister- unless it is expressly stated in law that criminal records should be made known to the Court at the outset of proceedings. For example, s54 of the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act provides that proof of convictions and acquittals are admissible as evidence in the context of offences dealing with confiscation of benefits dealing with drug dealing and other serious crimes.
The present matter is not one such case where such an exception may be made. The security concern which the police refer to is not an exception under the law. It follows that that the police statement on the man’s past convictions is a serious breach of the Singapore Constitution. The investigation and prosecution process is irreversibly tainted- resulting in a breach of the man’s right to a fair trial both under Art 9(1) of the Constitution and also international human rights law.
The Correct Way Forward
A breach of the Constitution is, of itself, an egregious breach of the law. The police have no choice but to drop their investigations in this matter so as to comply with the strict standards as stipulated by the Constitution and refrain from falling into such error again.
To continue with the investigation and prosecution process at this stage, would be a flagrant abuse of the law and the rule of law itself. The bias occasioned by the revealing of a prior criminal record cannot be removed i.e. irreversibly tainted and hence leaves the police with the only option of discontinuing the investigation. A refusal to do so violates the basic constitutional rights which all of us possess.
I would like to put on record my appreciation to Gabriel Tan, a law undergraduate at Durham University, for assisting me with this piece.