Judge tries to stop report of court remarks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 February, 1996, 12:00am

A JUDGE asked the press yesterday not to report remarks she had made in open court concerning Singapore's legal system.

Judge Chua said she did not want the comments reported because she was worried about her Singapore passport.

At the close of court, she left the bench and approached journalists to ask them not to report her remarks.

She said she was concerned about the comments she had made minutes earlier about the Singaporean Chief Justice.

She asked reporters to follow her into her chambers and asked them not to report her request for the ban.

Except under extraordinary circumstances any remark made in open court is free to be reported.

In certain cases, such as sexual assaults, trials involving juveniles or matters of security, a judge may apply for a ban on reporting.

'If a judge decides some information is not to be reported they can make an order,' a judiciary spokesman said.

'It is all at the judge's discretion.' Lawyers and legal experts were stunned when they learned of the comments by both the judge and the judiciary.

'It bodes badly for the future, especially with 1997 on the horizon, if a judge can stop what is said in court from being reported,' a veteran barrister said.

Another senior barrister said: 'It is an attempt to censor. If something is said in open court then it is there for all the world to hear. It's a very strange thing to say. If something has been said, then it is publish and be damned.' Legal expert Dr Nihal Jayawickrama of Hong Kong University said any attempt to control what is said in open court sends out the wrong signals. He was worried attempts to control what was said in court 'could lead to a miscarriage of justice', he said.

He suggested the judge had over-stepped her position by approaching the press bench.

Prosecutor Michael Delaney, who was in Judge Chua's court, said: 'I was surprised the judge engaged the press bench in conversation. I have not, in my experience, seen this before.' Judge Chua made the comments during the trial of a 16-year-old boy who pleaded guilty to assault.

The judge suggested that 'in a case like this one does wonder if Singapore's retaining caning is right'.

She illustrated Singapore's tough laws for young offenders with a story about a boy who had been sentenced to three years for stealing a can of beer. On appeal, Singapore's Chief Justice increased the sentence to seven years.

Judge Chua told journalists that as a Singapore passport holder she was afraid her remarks about the Chief Justice could be misinterpreted.




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